The seas around West Africa remain the world’s most dangerous for piracy, the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) latest report reveals. Of the 75 seafarers taken hostage onboard or kidnapped for ransom worldwide so far this year, 62 were captured in the Gulf of Guinea – off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon.
Worldwide, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) recorded 78 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the first half of 2019, compared with 107 incidents for the same period of 2018. Overall, 57 vessels were boarded successfully, representing 73% of all attacks.
Pirates killed one person, took 38 crewmembers hostage, and kidnapped a further 37 for ransom.
Gulf of Guinea world piracy hotspot
The IMB report reveals 73% of all kidnappings at sea, and 92% of hostage-takings, took place in the Gulf of Guinea. Armed pirates in these high-risk waters kidnapped 27 crewmembers in the first half of 2019, and 25 in the same period in 2018. Two chemical tankers were hijacked, as well as a tug that was then used in another attack. Of the nine vessels fired upon worldwide, eight were off the coast of Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer. These attacks took place on average 65 nautical miles off the coast – meaning they are classified as acts of piracy.
But there are some encouraging signs of improvement. IMB PRC reports “a welcome and marked decrease” in attacks in the Gulf of Guinea for the second quarter of 2019, commending the Nigerian navy for actively responding to reported incidents by dispatching patrol boats. While recognizing that many attacks go unreported, IMB recorded 21 incidents around Nigeria so far in 2019, down from 31 in the same period of 2018.
Naval vessels from Equatorial Guinea and Spain also intervened in May 2019 when a Nigerian tug was hijacked 41 nautical miles off Luba, Equatorial Guinea. Soon after, the pirates used the tug to launch an attack on a Maltese heavy load carrier. The crew retreated into the ship’s citadel, a safe room for protection against attackers. When the navies responded, the pirates left the vessel and the crew were freed. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre thanks the naval vessels for their prompt assistance.
Warning to stay alert
Despite the recent fall in Gulf of Guinea attacks, IMB is urging seafarers in the region to remain vigilant and report all suspicious activity to regional response centres and the IMB PRC. “Early detection of an approaching suspicious craft is key to prevent boarding and give time to raise the alarm and retreat into a citadel, if needed,” said an IMB spokesperson.
Meanwhile, in Malaysia, ten crew were kidnapped from two fishing boats off eastern Sabah in June. Of these, nine crew are reported to have been released.
Around Indonesia, ongoing information-sharing cooperation between the Indonesian Marine Police and the IMB PRC continues to show positive results. The 11 incidents reported in Indonesian waters remains the lowest Q2 figure since 2009 when three incidents were reported.
Violent attacks in South America
A vessel was fired upon in the Guayas River after departing from Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second largest city. This is the first time an incident involving the firing of weapons has been reported to the IMB PRC in Ecuador.
Elsewhere in South America, incidents of violent armed theft against ships at anchor have been reported in Callao in Peru, Jose Terminal in Venezuela and Macapa in Brazil. On 2 May 2019, when armed robbers boarded a yacht in San Ignacio de Tupile, Panama, shooting and killing a family member and injuring another, the IMB PRC liaised with the victims and authorities. The surviving family members including two children were rescued by Panamanian Marine Police.
Global anti-piracy support
Since 1991 the IMB PRC’s 24-hour manned centre, has provided the maritime industry, governments and response agencies with timely and transparent data on piracy and armed robbery incidents – received directly from the Master of the vessel or its owners.
The IMB PRC’s prompt forwarding of reports and liaison with response agencies, its broadcasts to shipping via Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) Safety Net Services and email alerts to Company Security Officers, all provided free of cost, has helped the response against piracy and armed robbery and the security of seafarers, globally.
IMB strongly urges all shipmasters and owners to report all actual, attempted and suspected piracy and armed robbery incidents to the IMB PRC globally. This first step in the response chain is vital to ensuring that adequate resources are allocated by authorities to tackle piracy. Transparent statistics from an independent, non-political, international organization can act as a catalyst to achieve this goal.