Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Piracy Down but Crew Kidnappings Up in 2016 as Merchant Vessels Warned to Stay Vigilant

Maritime Crime Continues to Move Away from Indian Ocean
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – According to the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau's (ICC IMB) annual piracy report, 2016 saw crew kidnappings at a 10 year high despite global piracy reaching its lowest levels since 1998. In its 2016 report, IMB recorded 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on the world’s seas, of which 150 vessels were boarded, 22 attempted attacks, 12 vessels fired upon, and seven vessels hijacked. The Director of the IMB, which through its Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) has monitored world piracy since 1991, Pottengal Mukundan, has once again reiterated the need to ships to stay vigilant in high-risk areas, saying:

"The continued fall in piracy is good news, but certain shipping routes remain dangerous, and the escalation of crew kidnapping is a worrying trend in some emerging areas. The kidnappings in the Sulu Sea between East Malaysia and the Philippines are a particular concern. Shipmasters should follow the latest best management practices and where possible take early action to avoid being boarded. They should inform the IMB PRC or regional counter piracy centres for help and advice."

Maritime kidnappings showed a threefold increase on 2015. Pirates kidnapped 62 people for ransom in 15 separate incidents in 2016. Just over half were captured off West Africa, while 28 were kidnapped from tugs, barges, fishing boats, and more recently merchant ships, around Malaysia and Indonesia. The Sulu Sea area was found to be an emerging threat to merchant shipping in 2016, where 12 crew have been kidnapped from two cargo vessels and an anchored fishing vessel, in the last quarter alone. Crew had previously been kidnapped from vulnerable slow-moving tugs and barges.

The Gulf of Guinea remained a kidnap hotspot in 2016, with 34 crew taken in nine separate incidents. Three vessels were hijacked in the region. There was a noticeable increase in attacks reported off Nigeria: 36 incidents in 2016, up from 14 in 2015. These included nine of the 12 vessels fired upon worldwide in 2016. Some were almost 100 nautical miles from the coastline.

Meanwhile, Indonesian piracy incidents fell from 108 in 2015 to 49 in 2016. Although the overwhelming majority were low-level thefts, vessels were boarded in all but three of the incidents.

The IMB recorded just two incidents off Somalia, previously the world’s most dangerous hotspot in terms of piracy. Pirates had first attempted to attack a container vessel in the Gulf of Aden in May, with the other recorded attack being a product tanker that was fired upon in the Somali basin some 300 nautical miles from shore in October. The IMB is of the view that, despite the downturn, this latest incident demonstrates that the capacity and intent to attack merchant shipping still exists off Somalia.

Elsewhere South America joins the list with Peru reporting 11 incidents, 10 of them at the country's main port of Callao, compared to none whatsoever in 2015. The number of incidents in Vung Tau, Vietnam dropped from 15 in 2015 to seven in 2016. Bangladesh also witnessed a welcome decrease, down from 11 in 2015 to three in 2016.

Photo: A Nigerian pirate gang captured by Ghanaian forces and found to be armed with AK47’s and a pump action shotgun after they seized a product tanker in 2015.