Mexico Sees a Marked Increase in Offshore Piracy Attacks

A recent spike in thefts from shallow-water oil platforms and support vessels in the heart of Mexico’s offshore oil and gas industry has worsened delays and economic losses for both state-owned and non-state operators.

But while the recent surge in incidents is set against a longer-term downward trend in attacks, criminals continue to operate with minimal impact from navy-implemented security operations. The most recent incidents involving Oil Platform supply vessels were boarded were reported in December, but perhaps the most significant include thefts from offshore platforms operated by Pemex and Russia’s Lukoil in June and an attack on oil services company Protexa’s Crest Tarasco vessel off the coast of Dos Bocas, Tabasco, in May.

The number of attacks on offshore platforms and services vessels has doubled this year compared with previous years, following a well-established modus operandi with groups of from five to 15 armed individuals boarding offshore platforms or oil service vessels from small fiberglass-hulled craft, similar in appearance to local fishing boats.

Attacks have taken place at night, targeting personal items belonging to the crew, equipment such as mooring ropes, scuba gear, metal pipes, and easily transportable cargo. However, while criminals previously targeted remote and minimally staffed platforms, recent attacks have included Pemex’s largest complexes across the Cantarell field as well as the newly launched Ichalkil field operated by Lukoil.

The methodology of the attacks indicates that the perpetrators are low-level criminals likely operating at the behest of criminal gangs ashore. While the attacks have yet to result in serious injuries or deaths, gunshots were fired during May’s attack on Protexa’s Crest Tarasco vessel. The navy responded within 30 minutes of the Crest Tarasco’s alarm call but employees have expressed concern about the increasing number of attacks in the region and the lack of communication from the navy about how it would respond to active robberies if employees are held hostage.

There is a lot at stake if the security situation worsens — $12.3bn in approved investments this year in shallow and deepwater blocks — and Russian operator Lukoil has already had to delay exploration work by four months on its shallow water block 12 “due to insecure conditions”.

The Mexican navy is required to protect a vast area of offshore acreage — 81,998 km² (31,660 mile²) across 60 exploration and production contracts and 97 Pemex blocks, however, most attacks have taken place relatively close offshore from Ciudad del Carmen in Campeche and Dos Bocas. As the security situation worsens, and without the necessary government-led tools or resources, we can expect the situation to worsen.

For more information on piracy within this region, or globally, talk to one of our experts at enquiries@priavoseurity.com.

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