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2020 Sees Increase in Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea Incidents

The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB)’s annual piracy report recorded an increase of piracy and armed robbery incidents in 2020.

In 2020, IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) received 195 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide, in comparison to 162 in 2019. The incidents included three hijacked vessels, 11 vessels fired upon, 20 attempted attacks, and 161 vessels boarded. The rise is attributed to an increase of piracy and armed robbery reported within the Gulf of Guinea as well as increased armed robbery activity in the Singapore Straits.

Gulf of Guinea

Globally, 135 crew were kidnapped from their vessels in 2020, with the Gulf of Guinea accounting for over 95% of crew numbers kidnapped. A record 130 crew members were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents. Since 2019, the Gulf of Guinea has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of multiple crew kidnappings. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, the Gulf of Guinea recorded 39 crew kidnapped in two separate incidents.

Incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous as over 80% of attackers were armed with guns, according to the latest IMB figures. All three vessel hijackings and nine of the 11 vessels fired upon in 2020 related to this region. Crew kidnappings were reported in 25% of vessel attacks in the Gulf of Guinea – more than any other region in the world.

Once kidnapped, crew are removed from their vessel and can be held on shore until their release is negotiated. The furthest crew kidnapping in 2020 occurred almost 200 nautical miles (NM) from land with the average kidnapping incident taking place over 60NM from land, according to IMB.

The rise in kidnapping incidents further away from shorelines demonstrates the increasing capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. Given these developments, IMB advises vessels in the region to remain at least 250 NM from the coast at all times, or until the vessel can transit to commence cargo operations at a berth or safe anchorage.

“The latest statistics confirm the increased capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea with more and more attacks taking place further from the coast. This is a worrying trend that can only be resolved through increased information exchange and coordination between vessels, reporting and response agencies in the Gulf of Guinea Region. Despite prompt action by navies in the region, there remains an urgent need to address this crime, which continues to have a direct impact on the safety and security of innocent seafarers,” said Michael Howlett, Director of the ICC International Maritime Bureau. 

Counter-piracy efforts in the region have stepped up in recent months, some earning the praise of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which recently highlighted the efforts of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) for its contribution to the fight against piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea.

IMO said, “From the successful enactment of new legislation in the form of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act, 2019, complete with the forthcoming guidelines, to the initiation and implementation of the C4i Deep Blue Project, Nigeria continues to demonstrate its leadership in the region with regard to maritime domain awareness and the enhancement of maritime security amongst littoral States.”

Nigeria’s efforts are certainly helping but with Gulf of Guinea maritime security under increasing threat from pirates in the region, more work is needed. Nigeria is working with IMO to develop a National Maritime Security Strategy and in support of this has started work to form a National Maritime Security Committee consisting of the National Security Adviser, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force, INTERPOL, Marine Police, and other relevant security agencies. 

Singapore Straits

The increase in incidents against vessels underway within the Singapore Straits has continued since Q4 2019, with 23 incidents reported for 2020. Vessels were boarded in 22 of the 23 incidents. Although considered low level – i.e aimed at armed theft from the vessel – and tend to take place in the hours of darkness, one crew was injured, another taken hostage and two threatened during these incidents. Knives were reported in at least 14 incidents.

Indonesia

Armed robbery reports in Indonesia remained consistent with 26 low-level incidents reported in 2020, in comparison to 25 in 2019. Vessels continue to be boarded while anchored or berthed at Indonesian ports with two crew taken hostage and two threatened in 2020. The continued efforts of the Indonesian Marine Police are credited for maintaining the reduced levels of reported incidents.

Somalia

The IMB PRC received zero incidents of piracy and armed robbery in 2020 for Somalia. While there were no recorded incidents, the IMB PRC warns that Somalia pirates continue to possess the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean. In particular, the report warns that, “Masters and crew must remain vigilant and cautious when transiting these waters.”

Download the piracy report at the International Chamber of Commerce

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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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