What Does Piracy in the Gulf of Mexico Look Like in 2022?
Since 2016, piracy has been an ever-increasing problem in the Gulf of Mexico, with attacks increasing in daring.
Whilst 2022 has not seen as many attacks so far compared to 2020 and 2021, some have argued that the Gulf of Mexico could become a new centre for piracy. This article will discuss the modus operandi of pirates in the Gulf.
Like in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea, piracy in the Gulf of Mexico centres around the oil industry. Hundreds of oil and refined product tankers pass through the region yearly, mainly between oil rigs and refineries in Texas and Louisiana. The trade accounts for 17% of crude oil and 7% of natural gas imports for the United States.
There are 2,400 offshore platforms and 200 platforms in the Campeche Bay area, where most pirate attacks occur.
There are 2,400 offshore platforms and 200 platforms in the Campeche Bay area, where most pirate attacks occur. The area is filled with oil companies, including the Mexican state-owned Pemex.
As the region is rich with targets in the oil industry, these areas are the main focus of pirate attacks. Oil rigs are the primary targets, but oil industry shipping is also targeted, and shrimp fishers are attacked to a lesser extent.
Attacks started against unmanned rigs for easy pickings of equipment and oil but switched to manned rigs when pirates could obtain additional equipment, such as emergency breathing apparatuses.
Boats are repurposed with extra outboard motors for greater speed and manoeuvrability, with assaults taking place with multiple boats of around 5-15 men.
From 8 pm to 5 am, attacks usually occur and involve the pirates assaulting the rig or vessel with assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, machetes and other weapons. The pirate's main aim in the past seemed to be to siphon oil, but in recent years reports indicate they have pivoted to high-value items such as communication equipment, breathing apparatuses, cables and lighting, and will also rob the workers of their possessions.
Attacks usually involve the pirates assaulting the rig or vessel with assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, machetes and other weapons.
In general, the rule is that anything that is easily dismantled will be stolen. One attack in 2018 saw 40% of a heliport dismantled and stolen. Up to 50% of attacks can go unreported due to fears of reprisals or loss of lucrative contracts, which would far outstrip the value of the goods taken by the pirates. Fishers are held at gunpoint, and their catch is stolen. Shrimp fishing involves fishing at sea for around a month, and a catch can sell for approximately $80,000, which is a lucrative steal for pirates.
Up to 50% of attacks can go unreported due to fears of reprisals or loss of lucrative contracts
There is an air of mystery surrounding the perpetrators themselves, however. No one is sure who they are or how organised they are. The pirates must be organised well enough to gain access to weapons, modify boats and fence stolen goods. They also know what to steal when access is gained to a vessel or rig. However, connections to more significant criminal elements, such as the drug cartels, have yet to be proven.
The lack of arrests has not helped the issue find out more information. What is likely is that if left unchecked, there is the potential for piracy to become more organised and a more significant problem in the region. However, we shall cover the development and consequences of piracy in the Gulf and the response of the Mexican government in later articles.
Vessel and Rig Protection Measures suited to the Gulf of Mexico
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Alasdair Baverstock, "Pirates In The Gulf Of Mexico", CTGN America, https://america.cgtn.com/2021/11/14/pirates-in-the-gulf-of-mexico
Anja Stelzer, "Piracy In The Southern Gulf Of Mexico: Upcoming Piracy Cluster Or Outlier?", E-International Relations, https://www.e-ir.info/2022/02/27/piracy-in-the-southern-gulf-of-mexico-upcoming-piracy-cluster-or-outlier/
Ashley Pechinski, "Guns In The Gulf - Mexico's Navy Called To Protect Against Pirates", InSight Crime, https://insightcrime.org/news/guns-gulf-mexico-navy-called-protect-against-pirates/
Devin Lurie, "Understanding Mexico's Piracy Problem", American Security Project, https://www.americansecurityproject.org/understanding-mexicos-piracy-problem/