Crew kidnappings increase in the Gulf of Guinea


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 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide, compared to 201 reported incidents in 2018. The incidents included four hijacked vessels, 11 vessels fired on, 17 attempted attacks and 130 vessels boarded. While the overall decline in piracy incidents is encouraging, vessels remain at risk in several regions especially the Gulf of Guinea, the IMB said.

The number of crew kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea increased 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. The region accounted for 64 incidents including all four vessel hijackings in 2019, as well as 10 out of 11 vessels reported being fired at.

“We remain concerned this region recorded an unprecedented rise in crew kidnaps. The latest statistics confirm the importance of increased information exchange and co-ordination between vessels, reporting and response agencies in the Gulf of Guinea region. Without the necessary reporting structures in place, we cannot accurately highlight high-risk areas for seafarers and address the rise of piracy incidents in these persistently vulnerable waters,” said Michael Howlett, ICC IMB director.

In the Indian Ocean, Somalia reported zero piracy incidents, yet the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) advises vessels and crews remain cautious when transiting the region. In particular, the report warns “Somali pirates possess the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean.”

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

IMB’s latest figures also report vessels were successfully boarded in 10 incidents across the region last year. Despite this rise, IMB considers the intensity of 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 of the vessel while navigating congested waters,” Howlett said adding: “The IMB PRC was grateful to Singapore law enforcement agencies for responding promptly to incidents.”