The U.S. government warned of the threat posed by pirates to ships and oil facilities in the southern Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. State Department updated its travel alerts to include these assaults, which it says have occurred in Campeche Bay where armed criminal groups attack and steal commercial vessels and offshore oil platforms, and supply ships.
The Maritime Administration of the U.S. Government reported on its website that at least 20 fishing boats and 35 oil platforms and supply ships have been targeted by 'pirates' and armed robbers since January 2018 in the area. At least five of these attacks occurred in April 2020.
"A significant under-recording of attacks in this area is suspected. These attacks have involved the discharge of firearms, injury to crew, hostage-taking, and robbery," reads the alert issued on May 11.
In the alert issued, the U.S. government asked U.S. sailors planning to travel to Mexico to look for U.S. maritime advisories and alerts at https://www.maritime.dot.gov/msci-alerts, which include instructions on how to report suspicious activity and attacks to Mexican naval authorities and prepare a contingency plan for emergencies.
It should be noted that there are no travel restrictions for Mexican officials in Mexico, which includes tourist areas in the cities of Campeche, Calakmul, and Edzna.
How do the 'pirates' of the Gulf operate?
According to U.S. authorities, 'pirates' or thieves who attack infrastructure and ships on the high seas in this area generally operate in small groups of between 5 and 15 individuals on board various ships.
"They generally employ small fiberglass hulled boats, similar in appearance to local artisanal fishing boats, equipped with multiple high-powered outboard engines that allow them to travel quickly to oil fields located between five and ninety-five nautical miles offshore," the warning reads.
In addition, as detailed, the 'pirates' make their incursions under cover of darkness so that their focus is masked and they can use the platform lights to navigate to their target.
The attackers are reportedly armed with a variety of weapons including assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, machetes, knives, and tools. They are known to use violence to ensure compliance and prevent resistance.
Details of the last five attacks, recorded on 4, 8, 9, 12, and 14 April, describe, for example, that on 4 April eight-armed individuals in a boat approached a high-speed pipeline vessel in the Port of Dos Bocas, Tabasco. The crew sounded the alarm, enclosed the accommodation area, and assembled. As the boat approached the stern of the vessel, the armed men fired on the vessel.
In the April 9 attack, eight pirates boarded the Italian-flagged offshore supply vessel REMAS in the Gulf of Mexico. The pirates took several crew members hostage and used them as "human shields"; they looted the ship, stealing personal belongings and equipment from the ship before releasing the hostages and escaping.
While in the last incident, which occurred on the afternoon of 14 April, six robbers boarded the Gibraltar flag anchorage near Ciudad del Carmen; the robbers, armed with automatic weapons and guns, attempted to enter the accommodation area and then opened fire on the superstructure. In this incident, the thieves managed to steal high-value project equipment from the vessel before escaping, and a crew member was injured.