The search for two Americans kidnapped from a Louisiana-owned supply ship continues. The captain and chief engineer of the vessel C-Retriever were taken hostage off the western coast of Nigeria on Wednesday, according to US officials.
Lafourche Parish-based Edison Chouest Offshore owns and operates the vessel. Few details about the attack are being released, but some say this incident is just the latest in a developing string of attacks.
"Oil is not found in the most friendly of places," said Eric Smith.
Smith is the director of the Tulane Energy Institute at Tulane University and spent more than two decades working in the oil production industry. Smith says the Gulf of Guinea, where the C-Retriever came under attack, is rich in oil but lacking in organization and security. He says the pirates on the western coast of Africa are different than the fragmented network of criminals found off the eastern coast.
"In the case of Nigeria, it's more like a mafia-type organization. They're professional criminals that are conducting this activity. Usually they already have other vessels positioned to transport whatever items, persons they can get a hold of," said Smith.
According to a 2012 report on piracy, pirate attacks in areas off the western coast of Africa have surpassed the eastern coast, which has been made arguably more notorious in a recent Hollywood production. John Huggins, director of Oceans Beyond Piracy which authored the report, says supply ships such as the C-Retriever can be easy targets in open water.
"Depending how far off shore these vessels are, they usually have no means of defense, no guns. They operate at slower speeds and I think they have somewhat predictable courses because they supply certain anchorages or certain offshore rigs," said Higgins.
"They're starting to put things like water cannons on some of the boats which are essentially defensive weapons. They're not lethal, but they will wash somebody off the side of the boat," said Eric Smith.
Smith says economics will continue to drive such incidents. He says oil companies will continue to take the risks associated with exploration in dangerous waters as long as demand for oil remains high. That demand, Smith says, is coming from developing nations. That will keep the likelihood of pirate attacks and kidnappings high.