Africa's New Pirate Problem
Credit: Photograph by Jason Florio
The ocean mariner hijacking was a wake-up call to the threat in Benin's waters, says Ostergaard. It seems, however, that some companies, Monjasa included, slept through it, since there were more attacks to come. On May 8, at 4:45 am, four pirates came in through the engine-room skylight of the Energizer, a Monjasa-owned oil tanker delivering fuel off the coast of Cotonou. The men grabbed the chief engineer, pointed knives in his face, and ordered him to guide them to the captain's cabin. They stole laptop computers and cash from the captain and crew, and then fled.

Monjasa ratcheted up its safety measures. It established "citadels" on its tankers: fortified engine rooms without windows, in which crew members could seal themselves. Antipiracy drills became routine, and GPS locators were embedded in every vessel so that, says √òstergaard, "even if the pirates knocked out our communications system, we'd know where to find the ship."

Sensible as these measures were, they didn't completely remove the danger. In September, pirates attacked the Energizer again. The crew retreated to the citadel and cut the power so the attackers couldn't maneuver. After trying for two hours to reach the navy's emergency line, the Energizer's onshore shipping agent roused Major Ahoueya from bed. By the time a rescue arrived, the pirates were long gone.

Monjasa now, like many other companies, refuels ships in safer waters in Togo.