U.S. Marines assigned to Maritime Raid Force (MRF), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), board a simulated pirate vessel during small boat investigation training with NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Centre (NMIOTC) instructors at Naval Base Souda Bay, Crete, Greece, on March 12, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jered T. Stone)

Global Piracy Attacks Jump in First Quarter of the Year

A surge in armed attacks against ships around West Africa is pushing up global levels of piracy and armed robbery at sea.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre recorded 66 incidents in the first quarter of 2018, up from 43 for the same period in 2017, and 37 in Q1 2016.

Worldwide in the first three months of 2018, 100 crew were taken hostage and 14 kidnapped from their vessels. A total of 39 vessels were boarded, 11 fired upon and four vessels hijacked. IMB received a further 12 reports of attempted attacks.

The Gulf of Guinea accounts for 29 incidents in 2018 Q1, more than 40 percent of the global total. Of the 114 seafarers captured worldwide, all but one were in this region.

All four vessels hijackings were in the Gulf of Guinea, where no hijackings were reported in 2017. Two product tankers were hijacked from Cotonou anchorage in mid-January and early February, prompting the IMB PRC to issue a warning to ships. Toward the end of March, two fishing vessels were hijacked 30 nautical miles off Nigeria and 27 nautical miles off Ghana.

IMB said the hijacking of product tankers from anchorages in the Gulf of Guinea is a cause of concern. The intent of the perpetrators is to steal the oil cargo and kidnap crew. Prompt detection and response to any unauthorized movements of an anchored vessel could help in the effective response to such attacks.

Nigeria alone recorded 22 incidents. Of the 11 vessels fired upon worldwide, eight were off Nigeria. Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are against all vessels. Crews have been taken hostage and kidnapped from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels as well as product tankers. In some cases, the attacks have been avoided by the early detection of an approaching skiff, evasive action taken by the vessel and the effective use of citadels. The IMB is working with national and regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea to support ships and coordinate counter-piracy actions.

Elsewhere, one incident was reported off Somalia, where a product tanker was fired upon and chased by two skiffs around 160nm SE of Hobyo. At the end of March, a 160,000 DWT tanker reported being fired upon in the Gulf of Aden, while transiting within the Maritime Security Transit Corridor. The distance from land, sighting of ladders and firing upon ships continues to illustrate that the Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to attack merchant shipping in the wider Indian Ocean.

Indonesia recorded nine low-level attacks against anchored vessels. Five bulk carriers reported actual or attempted attacks at Muara Berau anchorage in Samarinda, while waiting to load coal cargo.

Maritime piracy had been experiencing a downturn since 2011. In fact, 2016 records showed the lowest number of attacks in 20 years. However, this trend looks to be reversing, requiring both enhanced and innovative efforts on the part of counter-piracy authorities and ship owners.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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