Marines with Maritime Raid Force, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, hook a caving ladder in Guam, Feb. 1, 2018, during Visit, Board, Search and Seizure training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bernadette Wildes)

Pirates ‘Retain Their Ability to Organize and Implement Attacks,’ 2017 Review Finds

Piracy in the Caribbean and Latin America rose by 163 percent last year, while piracy doubled in the Horn of Africa in 2017 showing the resiliency of seafaring Somali criminal networks, a new report found.

The 2017 study released this week by Oceans Beyond Piracy cited threats to shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, while noting there’s been a 13 percent drop in the use of privately contracted armed security personnel between January 2015 and December 2017.

In east Africa, $292.5 million was spent on armed maritime security contractors last year, while international naval activities cost $199.7 million. The economic cost of piracy in the area has stabilized over the past three years at $1.4 billion.

Forty-one percent of attacks, in 54 total incidents that represented a 100 percent increase from 2016, involved armed assailants. Four vessels were hijacked and pirates didn’t succeed in 15 attempted attacks. The capture of the Aris-13 oil tanker in March 2017 marked the first hijacking of a merchant ocean-going vessel in the region in five years.

“Pirate activity in 2017 clearly demonstrates that pirate groups retain their ability to organize and implement attacks against ships transiting the region,” said Maisie Pigeon, lead author on the report.

In April, the Trump administration renewed the 2o10 national emergency declaration with respect to Somalia, declaring that piracy and terrorist activity continue “to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

“We have observed a significant increase in violent incidents and anchorage crime, particularly in the anchorages of Venezuela and the recent violent incidents off Suriname in the first part of this year,” Pigeon said of the Caribbean and Latin America spike.

The report was “unable to compile a comprehensive economic cost of piracy for Latin America and the Caribbean due the complexity of maritime activity in the region.” Out of 71 total incidents, 42 involved yachts.

With the majority of crime involving robbery from ships at anchor and most incidents occurring in territorial waters, only 23 percent of attackers were armed.

The toll of piracy continues to mount in West Africa, at $818.1 million in 2017 compared to $793.7 million in 2016. Spending on contracted maritime security decreased to $213.7 million, while allocations on law enforcement and naval patrols increased by $13.2 million.

A hundred crew members were taken hostage in the Gulf of Guinea in 2017, and two crew members were killed by pirates. Out of 97 incidents last year, 21 involved kidnapping seafarers for ransom and one incident was a hijacking to seize the ship’s cargo.

“Piracy continues to pose a persistent threat in the Gulf of Guinea despite a broad array of countermeasures implemented by coastal states and maritime security companies,” the report found.

The piracy outlook in Asia included a sharp decrease in overall incidents, from 2,283 in 2016 to 99 last year. However, 17 seafarers were killed in 2017 — six of those were crew members who had been kidnapped the previous year.

While the report calculated $6.3 million in stolen goods, up from $4.5 million the previous year, it “was limited in its ability to calculate an economic figure due to the complexity of shipping patterns and the difficulty in isolating dedicated counter-piracy patrols of regional naval and law enforcement agencies.” Sixteen crew members were taken hostage during this period, and incidents that resulted in captivity ranged from four days to 264 days.

Sixty-seven seafarers were kidnapped in 2016, and the report credits the 2017 drop to “the success of the trilateral patrols whose mission includes countering piracy and armed robbery and prohibiting the flow of armed militants around the Sulu and Celebes Sea region.”

Out of the 99 incidents, four involved kidnapping for ransom and three involved hijacking for the theft of cargo.

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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