The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has raised concern on the resurgence of reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea waters and the increase in incidents in the Singapore Straits in its mid-year report for 2023.
Sixty-five incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were recorded in the first half of 2023, an increase from 58 incidents for the same period in 2022.
Of the 65 incidents reported, 57 vessels were boarded, four had attempted attacks, two were hijacked and two were fired upon. Perpetrators successfully boarded 90% of targeted vessels. Violence towards crew continues with 36 taken hostage, 14 kidnapped, three threatened, two injured and one assaulted.
IMB Director Michael Howlett said: “The resurgence in reported incidents including hostage situations and crew kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea waters is concerning. The IMB calls for continued, robust regional and international naval presence as a deterrent to address these crimes.”
The Gulf of Guinea witnessed a concerning surge in maritime incidents between Q1 and Q2 of 2023, with five incidents in the first quarter and nine in the second quarter. Out of these, 12 were classified as armed robberies and two as piracy, predominantly targeting anchored vessels in the region.
Fourteen crew were kidnapped, of which eight crew members were taken from vessels anchored within territorial waters. Additionally, in two separate hijackings, 31 crew members were held hostage, communication and navigation equipment were destroyed, and partial cargoes were stolen. One of these incidents also involved the abduction of six crew members.
Previously, the region had witnessed decreases in attacks thanks to large-scale counterpiracy efforts by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). However, this month has seen a call from Nigeria’s House of Representatives to improve safety and security, with a challenge to NIMASA as well as the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) to develop strategic and implementable guidelines that will mitigate the loss of lives and valuables in the country’s coastal lines. The call comes amid concern over rising cases of criminality, including illegal oil bunkering, piracy and sea robbery and illegal fishing activities amongst others, on the waterways.
While generally considered low level opportunistic crimes, large vessels transiting through the Singapore Straits remain targeted and boarded, with a significant 25% increase in reported incidents compared to the same period last year in these congested waters. The IMB expresses concern and has requested that littoral states allocate the required resources to address these crimes as crew members continue to be at risk with weapons reported in at least eight incidents.
The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP)’s half-yearly report also notes that the area continues to be one of concern, with 41 incidents in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS) reported to ReCAAP’s Information Sharing Center (ISC) during Jan – Jun 2023 compared to 27 incidents during the same period in 2022. Of the 41 incidents reported in the SOMS, 38 incidents occurred in the Singapore Strait, a 41% increase compared to 27 incidents in the first half of 2022. Three incidents occurred in the Malacca Strait compared to no incident in the first half of 2022. ReCAAP reports that approximately two thirds of the ships boarded in the Singapore Strait were bulk carriers while underway/sailing, and 87% of incidents occurred during hours of darkness between 1800 to 0559 hrs.
ReCAAP ISC Executive Director, Mr Krishnaswamy Natarajan, said “The increase in incidents in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore is likely due to the socio-economic situation worsened by the pandemic, lower fish catch due to climate change as also the prevailing Southwest monsoon. These factors may have led the locals of the Strait to turn to sea robbery and petty crimes to make ends meet. I urge the law enforcement agencies of coastal States to enhance surveillance, increase patrols and respond promptly to reports of incidents.”
On August 2, the ReCAAP ISC held a dialogue with representatives of global and regional shipping associations, as well as shipping companies based in Singapore and Malaysia. Some of the issues raised during the dialogue include the need for tighter communication between the Singapore authorities and littoral States when fighting sea robbery, the adoption of technology onboard ships to detect and deter perpetrators, and the need to manage crew fatigue when transiting the Straits of Malacca and Singapore so as to maintain a high level of crew alertness and vigilance.
Conversely, the Indonesian archipelagic region has shown a sustained decrease in reported incidents compared to years preceding 2020, according to the IMB, with seven incidents reported, primarily involving anchored or berthed vessels. Crew members remain at risk, with instances of threats and knives reported.
In South and Central American ports, which accounted for 14% of global incidents, there were 13 reported incidents, including attempted boardings, hostage situations, and crew assaults and threats at Callao Anchorage in Peru, Colombia, Macapa Anchorage in Brazil, and Panama.