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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Maritime Piracy Incidents at Lowest Levels in Decades

Counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Guinea will be further bolstered by a strategy announced in July 2022 by the Nigerian government and a coalition of global shipping stakeholders. The strategy establishes a mechanism to periodically assess the effectiveness of country-piracy initiatives and commitments in the region.

The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is calling for regional and international players to sustain their efforts, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, as global piracy and armed robbery incidents reach their lowest levels since 1992.

IMB’s latest global quarterly piracy report details 90 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the first nine months of 2022, the lowest recorded figure in three decades.

Perpetrators were successful in gaining access to the vessels in 95% of the reported incidents which are broken down as 85 vessels boarded, four attempted attacks, and one vessel hijacked. In many of the cases vessels were either at anchor or steaming when boarded, with nearly all the incidents occurring during the hours of darkness.

Though these are amongst the lowest reports in decades, violence to crew continues with 27 crew taken hostage, six assaulted and five threatened. IMB says the risk to the crew, however petty or opportunistic the incident, remains real.

Gulf of Guinea

Of the 90 global piracy and armed robbery incidents in IMB’s report, 13 have been reported in the Gulf of Guinea region – compared to 27 over the same period of 2021 – signaling a positive and significant decline in the number of reported incidents in the region off west Africa which emerged as the world’s biggest piracy hotspot in recent years.

Much of this success is a result of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency’s Deep Blue Project, which was initiated in 2021. The main objective of the project is to secure Nigerian waters up to the Gulf of Guinea. The project tackles maritime security on land, sea, and air and is the first integrated maritime security strategy in West and Central Africa with the aim of tackling the incidences of piracy, sea robbery, and other crimes at sea. In June 2022, two unmanned aircraft systems, nine interceptor patrol boats and 10 armored vehicles were added to the project’s existing assets.

International collaborations in the Gulf of Guinea have signaled intent and provide another strong deterrent in the region. In November 2021, Danish Armed Forces responded to an incident, exchanged fire with pirates and sank the perpetrators’ vessel.

Counter-piracy efforts in the region will be further bolstered by a strategy announced in July 2022 by the Nigerian government and a coalition of global shipping stakeholders. The strategy establishes a mechanism to periodically assess the effectiveness of country-piracy initiatives and commitments in the Gulf of Guinea. Targeted at all stakeholders operating in the region, it will identify areas of improvement and reinforcement in order to eliminate piracy. The plan is split into two mutually supportive sections: actions which can be overseen by the Nigerian Industry Working Group, and actions which require engagement with other regional and international partners. 

IMB Director Michael Howlett said: “We commend the efforts of the coastal authorities of the Gulf of Guinea. While the decline is welcome, sustained and continued efforts of the coastal authorities and the presence of the international navies remain essential to safeguard seafarers and long-term regional and international shipping and trade. There is no room for complacency.”

Singapore Straits

Incidents in the Singapore Straits continue to increase with 31 reports in the first nine months of 2022, compared to 21 in the same period last year. Vessels underway, including several large vessels and tankers, were boarded in all 31 reports and in most cases, ship stores or properties were stolen. Crews also continue to be at risk with weapons reported in at least 16 incidents, including some involving very large bulk carriers and tankers.

“While these are so far considered low-level opportunistic crimes, with no crew kidnappings or vessel hijackings, littoral states are requested to increase patrols in what is a strategically important waterway for the shipping industry and for global trade,” Howlett said.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) is also concerned with the persistent occurrence of incidents in the Singapore Strait, particularly the clusters of incidents off Tanjung Pergam, Bintan Island and Nongsa Point, Batam Island. ReCAAP said in August that three incidents were reported while ships were underway in the Singapore Strait during July 30–31 2022. Two of the incidents occurred on July 30 on board bulk carriers when they were underway off Tanjung Pergam, Bintan Island and ReCAAP believes there is a possibility that the same group of perpetrators is responsible for both incidents as the modus operandi of the perpetrators are similar. In the two incidents, the perpetrators were armed with knives, sighted in the engine room and engine spare parts were reported missing. 

A further concern is that the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Center believes there is a degree of underreporting as well as late reporting of incidents from these waters and encourages Masters to report all incidents as early as possible so that local authorities are able to identify, investigate and apprehend the perpetrators.

South America

In South America, the number of reports from Callao anchorage in Peru has dropped from 15 in the first nine months of 2021 to eight in 2022. Additionally, five incidents have been reported at Macapa Anchorage, Brazil including one on August 30, where six security and duty crew were assaulted and tied up by perpetrators who boarded an anchored bulk carrier.

Kylie Bielby
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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