Piracy surge in Atlantic Ocean driving a security-boat building boom in South Africa

A proliferation of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, an expanse of the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Senegal to Angola, is driving a security-boat building boom in South Africa.

Paramount Maritime Holdings, a unit of Africa’s biggest privately owned arms-maker, Paramount Group, says it has largely cornered the market for patrol and escort vessels used in the waters offshore Nigeria and neighbouring states.

The company currently has 26 boats with a total price tag of about $60 million under construction in Cape Town.

“We pioneered the security patrol market in West Africa,” Stuart McVitty, chief executive officer of Paramount Maritime, said in an interview. “We’ve seen steady growth over the last five to six years.”

Almost a third of the 68 piracy incidents reported in the first half of this year occurred in the Gulf of Guinea, and all 50 crew members that were taken hostage were abducted there, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

While a surge in piracy off the coast of Somalia a decade ago led several countries to deploy naval ships to combat the scourge, shippers and oil companies operating in the Gulf of Guinea have largely been left to fend for themselves.

Most of them have resorted to chartering security vessels to escort their commercial ships into port or patrol their concessions.

Paramount has tapped that demand, with its most popular boat being its 35-meter (115-foot) Sentinel model. While the company has secured orders to supply about 26 more vessels over the next three years, it is facing increasing competition from suppliers in Singapore and Israel, according to McVitty.

Paramount’s boats aren’t equipped with high-calibre weapons so as to comply with South Africa’s arms exporting laws that regulate sales to private security companies, but some have water cannons mounted on their decks that can be used to extinguish fires or swamp small craft typically used by pirates.

Most of the vessels can accommodate eight crew members and eight security personnel.

“We give them separate accommodation as we have noticed that the crew and security personnel usually don’t like to mingle too much,” McVitty said.

Gas developments offshore northern Mozambique could spawn a new market for security vessels. The southeast African nation is currently battling an Islamist insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province that’s indefinitely halted the development of $20 billion liquefied natural gas project by French energy giant TotalEnergies SE.

“We are projecting that we will see a very similar market develop in those gas fields” to the one that exists offshore West Africa when activity resumes, McVitty said.

Read: South Africa has run out of options, say economists

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Piracy surge in Atlantic Ocean driving a security-boat building boom in South Africa