In theory, day 14 was supposed to be our most ‘dangerous’ day at sea. I put dangerous in quotes because it wasn’t really dangerous at all. Nonetheless, it is worth talking about some of the issues the G Expedition has to face in this part of the world and the security precautions which were put in place.
For starters, it needs to be noted that West Africa is not East Africa. The problems with piracy off the Horn of Africa are nothing like what has been happening in the Gulf of Guinea. While piracy has become a full blown industry in Somalia, in West Africa there have only been a small number of cases of piracy, and those have only involved oil tankers. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a case of a passenger vessel being taken in West Africa.
That being said, it is possible there could be a first time, so there have been security measures put in place to ensure the safety of the ship. Here are some of the things which have been done:
- The stern of the ship has been covered in razor wire. As this is the lowest point of the ship where someone could climb on board, this part was given the most attention in terms of security. Most piracy attempts involve putting a ladder against the ship or throwing up a rope, so by securing the lowest accessible point of the ship, you can do the most good.
- In addition to the razor wire, several fire hoses were installed which point outward on the stern of the ship. The theory being, that if someone still tried to scale the ship, they would be blasted with a high pressure flow of water and would be knocked back.
- Most of the piracy incidents which have occurred in West Africa have come near the coast of Nigeria. That is the reason why we didn’t visit Nigeria on this trip. Also, as we traveled from Principe to Benin, we didn’t take a direct route. We took a roundabout path which was a bit longer, but was further away from any potential source of danger. This is also why I’ve withheld the latitude and longitude from today’s update.
- A team of former special forces soldiers were brought on board in Swakopmund. These guys are trained in courter piracy measures and one is on security duty at all times during the cruise. None of them are allowed to drink during the trip. (Which I know because several of us have tried to buy them a beer :)
- The entire crew has been trained in security procedures in the event that something should happen. Should a small team of people in a boat try to take us, they’d have their hands full with a bunch of angry Filipino crew members. The fact that you’d have to deal with so many people is one reason why hijacking passenger ships isn’t a good business decision for pirates.
- During periods where we are closest to Nigeria, we’ve been running at night with most of our lights out. You can still see some lights out the windows, but it has been minimized.
- We we fortunate to have a Turkish warship in the region this year. I’ve also understood that there is usually one or more naval vessels in the region all the time. That means if pirates did try something, they have to deal with armed soldiers within a few hours. Again, that is bad for business.
- This is actually a very busy stretch of water. Along Togo and Benin we saw dozens of ships including container vessels, oil tankers and other ships with actual, sellable cargo. They are much better targets than a passenger ship filled with retirees.
So, while the threat was minimal to begin with, the security procedures put in place has made it such that none of the passengers have been seriously concerned about our safety, myself included. I have no desire to be a martyr for the cause of travel, and I didn’t feel that traveling in West Africa was in any way an extreme risk.
I have no doubt in my mind that this is by far the least dangerous way to experience West Africa.
Next Stop: Cotonou, Benin