Despite Drop In Piracy Globally, Kidnapping Still Soars In Gulf of Guinea 

Abiola Seun    |   

Despite overall piracy incidents declining in 2019, there was an alarming increase in crew kidnappings across the Gulf of Guinea, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) annual piracy report.

In 2019, IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre received 162 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide, in comparison to 201 reported incidents in 2018.

The incidents included four hijacked vessels, 11 vessels fired upon, 17 attempted attacks, and 130 vessels boarded, according to the latest IMB figures. While the overall decline in piracy incidents is an encouraging development, vessels remain at risk in several regions, especially the Gulf of Guinea.

The number of crew kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea increased by more than 50% from 78 in 2018 to 121 in 2019. This equates to over 90% of global kidnappings reported at sea with 64 crew members kidnapped across six separate incidents in the last quarter of 2019 alone.

The region accounted for 64 incidents including all four vessel hijackings that occurred in 2019, as well as 10 out of 11 vessels that reported coming under fire.

‘We remain concerned that this region has recorded an unprecedented rise in crew kidnaps.

These latest statistics confirm the importance of increased information exchange and coordination between vessels, reporting and response agencies in the Gulf of Guinea Region.

Without the necessary reporting structures in place, we will be unable to accurately highlight the high-risk areas for seafarers and address the rise of piracy incidents in these persistently vulnerable waters.’ – Michael Howlett, Director of the ICC International Maritime Bureau.

Similarly, the Singapore Straits experienced a rise in armed robbery attacks with 12 reported incidents in 2019, including 11 in the last quarter of 2019. The same region accounted for just three incidents for the entirety of 2018.

IMB’s latest figures also report that vessels were successfully boarded in 10 incidents across the region last year.

Despite this rise, IMB considers the intensity of the attacks in the Singapore Straits to be ‘low level’ and usually limited to armed robbery from the vessel.

‘This is a distraction and potentially dangerous for the crew in control of the vessel whilst navigating through these congested waters’, continued Howlett.

‘The IMB PRC is grateful to Singapore law enforcement agencies for responding promptly to some of these incidents.’

As with all piracy-related incidents, IMB 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 this crime.

Piracy is a significant threat for shipping companies operating in the region. Industry organisations have pointed out that urgent action is required and that seafarers should not be “exposed to such appalling dangers”.

The human cost is significant and hostages aren’t the only victims. Representatives from seafarers’ unions have pointed out that their members are at considerable risk for just doing their jobs, and even crews on ships that are merely transiting are on edge.

However, a professor, Maritime Security, University of Greenwich, Dirk Siebels said piracy is a significant threat for shipping companies operating in the GoG region.

According to him, industry organisations have pointed out that urgent action is required and that seafarers should not be exposed to such appalling dangers.

He said, “the West and Central African region has made significant progress in fighting all types of illicit activities at sea”.

According to him, various types of maritime security issues are mentioned in the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, adopted in 2013 and aimed at improving maritime security in West and Central Africa.

“Human and financial resources are scarce and maritime security is generally regarded as less important than land-based security challenges which directly affect domestic populations.”

“But, insecurity at sea has a significant economic impact by hurting activities related to the maritime environment. Maritime business plans therefore must include security-related expenditures for navies, coastguards and other government agencies. These are needed to maximise the potential of the maritime environment. This, in turn, would show that better maritime security has direct benefits for economic growth and development.”


Editing by ‘Biodun Soyele

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