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Friday, September 17, 2021
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Risks Remain as Maritime Piracy Incidents at Lowest Level in 27 Years

The International Maritime Bureau’s latest global piracy report details 68 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships – the lowest total since 1994 – down from 98 incidents during the same period last year. In the first six months of 2021, IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) reported 61 vessels boarded, four attempted attacks, two vessels fired upon and one vessel hijacked.

Despite the overall decline in reported incidents, violence against crews has continued with 50 crew kidnapped, three each threatened and taken hostage, two assaulted, one injured and one killed throughout the first half of 2021.

While the reduced numbers of reported incidents is welcome, the IMB PRC continues to caution against complacency. Vessels were boarded in 91% of the reported incidents.

The Gulf of Guinea continues to be particularly dangerous for seafarers with 32% of all reported incidents taking place in the region, according to IMB. The region accounted for all 50 kidnapped crew and the single crew fatality recorded by IMB during the first half of 2021. 

The number of kidnappings recorded in the Gulf of Guinea in the last quarter is the lowest since Q2 2019, but pirates continue to target all vessel types throughout the region. IMB warns that fishing vessels have been hijacked in the Gulf of Guinea and later used as mother ships to target other merchant vessels. In early June, a bulk carrier was approached by a skiff with six pirates while transitioning through the region at around 210nm off the coast of Lagos.

“Whilst IMB welcomes reduced piracy and armed robbery activity in the Gulf of Guinea, the risk to seafarers still remains,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett. “By reporting all incidents to the Regional Authorities and IMB PRC, seafarers can maintain pressure against pirates. Bringing together maritime response authorities through initiatives – like Nigeria’s Deep Blue Project and Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum – will continue and strengthen knowledge sharing channels and reduce risk to seafarers in the region.”

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has also commended Nigeria for playing a leading role in efforts to secure the Gulf of Guinea, saying it will continue to support the country and the region. IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim said the country had made important contributions to the fight against piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea maritime domain, foremost among them being the Deep Blue Project.

The project, which was initiated by the Federal Ministry of Transportation and Federal Ministry of Defence, is being implemented by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. The main objective is to secure Nigerian waters up to the Gulf of Guinea and the project will tackle maritime security on land and in the air as well as at sea.

The land assets include the Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence Centre (C4i) for intelligence gathering and data collection; 16 armored vehicles for coastal patrol; and 600 specially trained troops for interdiction, known as Maritime Security Unit. The sea assets include two Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats. The air assets comprise two Special Mission Aircraft for surveillance of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone; three Special Mission Helicopters for search and rescue operations; and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

In Asia, the Singapore Straits recorded 16 incidents in the first six months of 2021, in comparison to 11 during the same period in 2020. These attacks are considered opportunistic in nature, but IMB warns that in seven incidents the perpetrators were armed with knives. In three separate incidents, seafarers were reported to have been either threatened, assaulted or injured.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) has also voiced concern over the continued occurrence of incidents in the Singapore Strait, particularly off Tanjung Pergam, Bintan Island, Indonesia. ReCAAP issued an alert for the area at the end of June, which noted that five incidents occurred that month alone.

Vessels are also advised to take precautionary measures while anchored in Manila Bay, Philippines, as four incidents were reported to IMB for Q2 2021.

In comparison to the first half of 2019 and 2020, Callao Anchorage, Peru has experienced a two-fold increase in the number of incidents with nine incidents reported in total for 2021. There were four incidents in Q2 2021 and knives reported in three of these, according to the latest figures from IMB. Perpetrators in the region possess the capacity to carry out violent attacks with two separate incidents of crew being taken hostage and assaulted occurring in the first six months of 2021.

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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