Piracy - still a cause for concern

Oct 20 2017

There is continuing concern over the number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and Southeast Asia in the first nine months of this year, according to the latest report from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

A total of 121 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported during the period. The IMB’s third quarter report warned that, while piracy levels were down, compared to the same period in 2016, there is continuing concern over attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and in Southeast Asia.

The increase in attacks off the coast of Venezuela and other security incidents against vessels off Libya – including an attempted boarding in the last quarter – highlights the need for vigilance in other areas, the IMB said. 

In total, 92 vessels were boarded, 13 were fired upon, there were 11 attempted attacks and five vessels were hijacked in the nine month period, according to the report.

No incidents were reported off the coast of Somalia in the last quarter, although the successful attacks from earlier in the year suggested that pirates in the area retain the capacity to target merchant shipping at distances from the coastline.

The four main highlights of the report, were -   

1) Malaysia’s success story - One vessel was reported hijacked in 3Q17 when a Thai product tanker was attacked off Pulau Yu in Malaysia in early September.

However, thanks to the prompt intervention of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, 10 hijackers were successfully apprehended and the tanker was safely escorted to a nearby port. The pirates were quickly tried and sentenced to long periods of imprisonment.

“The Malaysian response demonstrates exactly the type of speedy and robust action that is needed to deter such attacks,” said Pottengal Mukundan, IMB director.

2) Nigeria remains risky - A total of 20 reports involving all vessel types were received for Nigeria, 16 of which occurred off the coast of Brass, Bonny and Bayelsa.

Guns were reportedly used in 18 of the incidents and vessels were underway in 17 of 20 reports. Some 39 of the 49 seafarers kidnapped globally occurred off Nigerian waters in seven separate incidents.

Other crew kidnappings in 2017 were reported 60 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria.


“In general, all waters in and off Nigeria remain risky, despite intervention in some cases by the Nigerian Navy. We advise vessels to be vigilant,” said Mukundan. “The number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea could be even higher than our figures as many incidents continue to be unreported.”

3) An increase in violence off Venezuela - While only three low-level incidents took place in Venezuela during the same period in 2016, the number this year rose to 11.

All the vessels were successfully boarded by robbers armed with guns or knives and mostly took place at anchorage. Four seafarers were taken hostage during these incidents, with two assaulted and one injured.

 4) Tackling piracy - a team effort - Perhaps the biggest takeaway of this quarter’s report is the proven importance of the 24-hour manned IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC), which has provided the maritime industry, governments and response agencies with timely and transparent data on piracy and armed robbery incidents received directly from the vessels or owners, flag states or navies, the bureau claimed.

The PRC’s prompt forwarding of reports and liaison with response agencies—using Inmarsat Safety Net Services and email alerts, all free of charge—has already helped bolster the response against piracy and armed robbery, keeping seafarers safe.

“One of the strongest weapons triggering the fight against piracy is accurate statistics,” said Mukundan. “There should be free and reciprocal sharing of information between the IMB PRC and regional information centres. With a clearer picture of when and where violent incidents are taking place, authorities are able to better allocate their resources to tackle this global issue.”

Maritime charity, Sailors’ Society, said that while the number of incidents had fallen, compared to the same period in 2016, the report showed that attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and Southeast Asia were still an issue and there had been a rise in attacks off the coast of Venezuela.

The statistics don’t take into account unreported incidents, the charity stressed.

The Sailors’ Society has set up three crisis response networks in Africa, Asia and Europe to support survivors of piracy attacks and crises at sea. CEO Stuart Rivers, said: “The fear of piracy is a massive issue for seafarers. While we are encouraged that incidents of piracy are generally decreasing, piracy is a still a major concern and any incident is one too many.

“Survivors of piracy and kidnappings are exposed to violence and terror, which can have a devastating impact on them and their families for years to come.

“By coming alongside these survivors and their families, we can work with other agencies to help them come to terms with what has happened and give them financial, physical and psychological support to help them pick up the pieces of their lives.” 

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