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Kidnapping – Cotonou Anchorage Zone 3 – 4nm from Shore




19 April 2020


06° 16.8’N 002°31.8’E

Ship Dimension

255.36 x 37.39 m

Vessel / Cargo



Cotonou Anchorage Zone 3 – 4nm from shore

Source Confidence Level


Incident Overview

Reporting indicates that the Portuguese flagged Containership TOMMI RITSCHER is involved in an ongoing incident at Zone 3 Cotonou Anchorage. It is understood that the vessel was initially approached by a speedboat and subsequently boarded by an unknown number of persons. A Naval Patrol vessel (ZOU) is understood to have spotted the speedboat alongside the vessel and approached. On approaching the speedboat is understood to have fled leaving the perpetrators on board the TOMMI RITSCHER.

Further reporting indicates that 11 crew members were locked in the citadel with a suspected 8 further crew members remaining outside the citadel.

Crew members are understood to be 3x Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Filipino.

The remaining 8 crew were believed to have been held hostage on-board the vessel.

Update 21 April 20:

Reporting on the evening of the 20th April indicates that the TOMMI RITSCHER was boarded by Nigerian Special Forces. This is reported to have been an unopposed boarding resulting in the rescue of 11 personnel from the citadel. Notably, there has been no mention of the perpetrators or the 8 crew not within the citadel. It is believed that the Bulgarian Master is among those now assumed to be kidnapped.

Dryad will update accordingly.

Dryad Analysis

It is currently assessed that the 8 personnel originally held hostage on the vessel have been kidnapped.

Upon boarding the vessel, the multinational force consisting of Nigerian special forces and Benin naval personnel were reported to have been unable to find any sign of the perpetrators or the missing 8 crew members.

This is a highly irregular incident for which there are only two rational courses of action to explain the absence of crew. The first being that earlier reporting regarding the perpetrators being abandoned on the vessel were false and that the 8 crew members were kidnapped in the early stages of the incident. The second narrative is that the perpetrators and 8 crew members were at some point able to disembark the vessel and escape. Analysis indicates that the Nigerian Naval Vessel NNS OSE departed the scene on the morning of 20th April to the Cotonou Naval base before returning soon after. During this time, the TOMMI RITSCHER is understood to have been under observation by Naval vessels from Benin.

It would be considered a serious operational failing if the perpetrators were able to escape given the significant military presence in the vicinity of the vessel and thus it is assessed as a realistic possibility that communications from within the citadel were incorrect and that the perpetrators were able to escape at an early stage of the attack with 8 crew members.

It is assessed as highly likely that the perpetrators originated from within Nigeria, in particular the southern Delta region. It is assessed that the perpetrators are likely to have been aware that Benin had taken the decision to cease placing guards on board vessels at anchor as a result of COVID-19 and were aware of the limited established security presence within the area.

This the second incident within the Cotonou anchorage within 2020 and the 5th incident in this location across a 12 month time frame. Whilst the full details of the incident remain unknown, incidents within the anchorage area have predominantly been limited to suspicious approaches and boarding’s for the purposes of petty theft. The waters off Cotonou and neighbouring Lomé have witnessed a number of more serious incidents involving the kidnap of crew at a distance of between 40 – 150nm.

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