HomeNewsGuns in the Gulf – Mexico’s Navy Called to Protect Against Pirates

Guns in the Gulf – Mexico’s Navy Called to Protect Against Pirates


After a spate of attacks on oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico this year, the shipping industry is demanding protection, including a stronger presence from the Mexican Navy.

According to Mexican media reports, the latest attack came on July 19 when eight gunmen boarded the Sandunga oil platform, belonging to Mexico's Goimar. The pirates fired shots into the air and began ransacking the platform while holding the crew hostage in a security area.

As in many of these attacks, the items looted included breathing apparatus, diving helmets with cameras, protective gear, communications equipment, and employees' personal belongings. According to media reports, the workers called law enforcement immediately to report the pirates, who arrived on a vessel identifying it as having sailed from the state of Tabasco. But authorities did not arrive for four hours.

SEE ALSO: Gulf of Mexico Oil Industry Reeling From Hundred of Pirate Attacks in 2019

This surge in piracy has sparked calls for Mexico to provide more security in the Gulf of Mexico.

Within days of the attack, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) had written to the Ministry of the Navy, demanding regular ship and helicopter patrols and new special surveillance zones with permanent video monitoring and radar. The letter even asked whether extra Navy bases could be built to help stop the pirates.

The ITF also requested that all ships and platforms should have video surveillance and recording systems.

Mexico has registered 88 pirate attacks on oil infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico since 2015, including 20 last year. The ITF says the number is much higher, with its records showing 180 attacks in 2019 alone, the New York Times reported.   

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite these dozens of attacks, little proactive response has been seen from the government or the companies involved. According to a report by Oceans Beyond Piracy, this is due to a range of factors, including fears of financial liability, poor safety records and shipping delays.

In 2019, the Mexican government announced a new naval base and surveillance station would be opened in Dos Bocas, a port in the state of Tabasco. According to a report by World Maritime University, response times are still slow – at least two hours or more.

Local authorities have failed to permanently boost security levels across the Gulf of Mexico despite the frequency of attacks, the same report found.

The threat posed by pirates has escalated to the point that Panama and the United States have issued warnings to ships to increase security conditions when sailing in the Gulf of Mexico or to avoid the area if possible.

SEE ALSO: Oil Theft Spikes in Mexico, While Impunity Remains Widespread

Questions on how to tighten security are brewing. In a 2019 interview with InSight Crime, Lee Oughton, the Chief Operating Officer of Fortress Risk Management, said that acts of piracy in Mexican waters were far less common than in Nigeria and Somalia, and that companies had not yet seen the need to hire private security. This could yet change.

In an interview with Forbes, Rockford Weitz, director of maritime studies at Tufts University in Massachusetts, explains that "hundreds of crude oil tankers and refined product tankers pass through the Gulf of Mexico each year when transiting to and from the refineries in Texas and Louisiana." According to Weitz, these ships lack defense capabilities, forcing them to rely on the already stretched thin US Coast Guard to protect them. With the number of pirate attacks increasing in the southern half of the Gulf of Mexico, it's only a matter of time before the violent heists occur on US waters.

Even after years of attacks, little is known about the pirates, including their identities and their level of organization. No ties to larger criminal groups have been found.  

But Oughton commented that the pirates knew exactly what to steal and had clear connections to fence stolen oil and pieces of equipment, including communication devices, navigation instruments, engines, powerful spotlights, drilling rigs and pumping machinery.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.


Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


The full threat posed to Mexico's biodiversity by both Mexican and Chinese organized crime networks has been revealed in a…

EL MENCHO / 2 SEP 2021

As violence has continued to rise in Mexico year after year, criminal groups have adopted an increasingly militarized approach to…

MEXICO / 1 MAR 2021

An investigation into a criminal group, led by Romanians based in Mexico and specialized in ATM skimming and credit card…

About InSight Crime


Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…


Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…


Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…


InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…


Work With Us: Research Internship and Editorial Internship

31 OCT 2022

InSight Crime, a think tank dedicated to the study of organized crime and citizen security in the Americas, is seeking interns and investigators to join its dynamic, multinational team.