Friday, October 16, 2020

Piracy and Maritime Crime Still Proliferates in Some Regions as Attacks Continue

The Geographical Locations May Change but the Threat Always Exists
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – In the race to be the holder of the unwanted title of the 'World's Worst Piracy Hotspot' it seems the Gulf of Guinea remains currently unchallenged. With approximately 95% of global kidnappings reported from within Gulf of Guinea waters, the latest ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) report this week confirms the grave situation for merchant vessels trading in the region.

This of course is not to say that other areas do not hold dangers for the ships and their crews sailing through them. Somalia for example, which held the abhorrent title for so long, still has the potential to impose misery on unprotected sailors but the continuing use of Best Management Practices, the physical protection of ships and the use of private security teams, plus of course the sterling work of EU Navfor (Operation Atalanta) and other national forces, has seen a vast reduction in maritime crime. No incidents of piracy have been reported around Somalia since 2018. In August 2020 pirates freed the last three of the thousands of hostages who have been held captive in the region over the years since ship hijackings peaked in 2011.

IMB’s latest global piracy report details 132 attacks since the start of 2020, up from 119 incidents in the same period last year. Of the 85 seafarers kidnapped from their vessels and held for ransom, 80 were taken in the Gulf of Guinea, in 14 attacks reported off Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana. The furthest attack from shore also involved the most crew kidnapped from a single vessel in 2020.

On 17 July 2020, eight pirates armed with machine guns boarded a product tanker underway around 196 nautical miles southwest of Bayelsa, Nigeria. They held all 19 crewmembers hostage, stole ship’s documents and valuable items, and escaped with 13 kidnapped crew. The tanker was left drifting with limited and unqualified navigational and engine crew on board. A nearby merchant vessel later helped the tanker to sail to a safe port. Regional Authorities were notified and the 13 kidnapped crewmembers were released safely one month later.

In the first nine months of 2020, seafarers reported 134 cases of assault, injury and threats, including 85 crewmembers being kidnapped and 31 held hostage on board their ships. A total of 112 vessels were boarded and six were fired upon, while 12 reported attempted attacks. Two fishing vessels were hijacked, both in the Gulf of Guinea.

The IMB piracy report includes a special thanks to the Nigerian Authorities, particularly the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) which ‘continues to provide timely information, actions and valuable cooperation between Agencies’. Michael Howlett, Director of IMB, whose Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) has responded to reports and shared data since 1991, said:

“Crews are facing exceptional pressures due to Covid-19, and the risk of violent piracy or armed robbery is an extra stress. While IMB liaises with authorities swiftly in case of a pirate attack, we encourage all coastal states and regional cooperations to take responsibility for ensuring maritime security within their EEZ to achieve safer seas and secure trade.

“Understanding the true risk in the area is an important step towards improving safety for all seafarers. IMB PRC not only relays reports to appropriate response agencies and broadcasts incident information to ships via GMDSS, but we also use the reported statistics to raise awareness of these crimes and be a catalyst of change.”

A recent example of the type of crime being committed was on 8 September 2020, when armed pirates attacked a refrigerated cargo ship underway around 33 nautical miles south-southwest of Lagos, Nigeria. Two crewmembers were kidnapped, but the rest of the crew managed to retreat into the citadel, one of the industry’s recommended best practices endorsed by IMB. A Nigerian naval team was dispatched, which boarded, conducted a search, and then escorted the ship to a safe anchorage for investigations.

In other regions, Indonesian incidents are sharply down with just 4 reported in Q3 set against 14 in Q2, whilst there have been 15 recent attacks in the Singapore Straits, 10 of which involved the use of knives and most are regarded as ‘low level’ (although probably not by the victims).

Photo: The continued support against the pirate threat from such as EU Navfor (Operation Atalanta) of the type demonstrated by this Lithuanian trooper, is the reason Somalian maritime crime has seen such a sharp reduction. Courtesy EU Navfor.