A surge in armed attacks against ships around West Africa is pushing up global levels of piracy and armed robbery at sea, warns the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre recorded 66 incidents in the first quarter of 2018, up from 43 for the same period in 2017, and 37 in Q1 2016.
In total, 39 vessels were boarded, 11 fired upon and four vessels hijacked. A further 12 attempted incident reports were also received in the first three months of 2018. A hundred crew were taken hostage and 14 kidnapped from their vessels.
The Gulf of Guinea accounts for 29 incidents in 2018 Q1. Of the 114 seafarers captured worldwide, all but one was in this region.
Four vessels were highjacked in the Gulf of Guinea this year, while no hijackings were reported there in 2017. Two anchored product tankers were hijacked from Cotonou anchorage in mid-January and early February, prompting the IMB PRC to issue a warning to ships. Towards the end of March, two fishing vessels were hijacked 30nm off Nigeria and 27nm off Ghana respectively.
“The hijacking of product tankers from anchorages is a cause of concern. In these cases, the intent of the perpetrators is to steal the oil cargo and kidnap crew. The prompt detection and response to any unauthorised movements of an anchored vessel could help in the effective response to such attacks,” commented an IMB spokesperson.
Nigeria alone recorded 22 incidents. Of the 11 vessels fired upon worldwide, eight occurred off Nigeria – including a report from a 300,000 MT deadweight VLCC tanker more than 40nm off Brass.
“Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are against all vessels. Crews have been taken hostage and kidnapped from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels as well as product tankers. In some cases, the attacks have been avoided by the early detection of an approaching skiff, evasive action taken by the vessel and the effective use of citadels. The IMB is working with national and regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea to support ships and coordinate counter-piracy actions. The authorities from Benin, Nigeria and Togo have sent out boats in response to several incidents,” said an IMB spokesperson.
One incident was reported off Somalia where a product tanker was fired upon and chased by two skiffs around 160nm SE of Hobyo. At the end of March, a 160,000 DWT tanker reported being fired upon in the Gulf of Aden, while transiting within the Maritime Security Transit Corridor (MSTC). The distance from land, sighting of ladders and firing upon ships continues to illustrate that the Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to attack merchant shipping in the wider Indian Ocean.
Indonesia recorded nine low level attacks where anchored vessels were targeted. Five bulk carriers reported actual or attempted attacks at Muara Berau anchorage in Samarinda, whilst waiting to load coal cargoes.
Since 1991 the IMB PRC’s 24-hour manned centre, has provided the maritime industry, governments and response agencies with timely and transparent data on piracy and armed robbery incidents – received directly from the Master of the vessel or its owners. The IMB PRC’s prompt forwarding of reports and liaison with response agencies, its broadcasts to shipping via Inmarsat Safety Net Services and email alerts to CSOs, all provided free of cost, has helped the response against piracy and armed robbery and the security of seafarers, globally. IMB strongly urges all shipmasters and owners to report all actual, attempted and suspected piracy and armed robbery incidents to the IMB PRC. This first step in the response chain is vital to ensuring that adequate resources are allocated by authorities to tackle piracy. Transparent statistics from an independent, non-political, international organisation can act as a catalyst to achieve this goal.