Crew kidnappings on the rise off West Africa


The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has warned that violent attacks against ships and their crews have increased this year, with the Gulf of Guinea becoming increasingly dangerous for commercial shipping as it accounts for 90% of maritime kidnappings worldwide.

The Bureau on 15 July said that so far this year, 77 seafarers have been taken hostage or kidnapped for ransom since January, according to its latest piracy report.

“Violence against crews is a growing risk in a workforce already under immense pressure,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett. “In the Gulf of Guinea, attackers armed with knives and guns now target crews on every type of vessel. Everyone’s vulnerable.”

So far this year, 49 crew have been kidnapped for ransom in the Gulf of Guinea and held captive on land for up to six weeks. Rates are accelerating, with 32 crew kidnapped in the past three months alone. And incidents are happening further out to sea: two-thirds of the vessels were attacked on the high seas from around 20 to 130 nautical miles off the Gulf of Guinea coastline, the IMB said.

“We need to change the risk-to-reward ratio for pirates operating within the Gulf of Guinea. Without an appropriate and proportionate deterrent, pirates and robbers will get more ruthless and more ambitious, increasing the risk to seafarers,” said Howlett.

In one recent case commended by the IMB, the Nigerian Navy responded promptly to a distress call from a fishing vessel boarded and hijacked by armed assailants in Ivory Coast waters. As a result the crew were saved and the ship was prevented from being used as a possible mother vessel to carry out further attacks.

In another incident, a product tanker was attacked while underway around 127 nautical miles off Bayelsa, Nigeria. Eight armed pirates kidnapped ten crew as well as stealing cash, personal valuables, and ship’s property. The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre contacted regional and international authorities, and a Nigerian Navy Security Vessel was dispatched. A nearby sister vessel helped the four remaining crewmembers to sail the tanker to a safe port. The kidnapped crew were released three weeks later.

Overall, the IMB said global ship hijackings are at their lowest since 1993. In total, IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre recorded 98 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the first half of 2020, up from 78 in the second quarter of 2019.

Somalia was for many years the epicentre of maritime piracy, but this year no incidents were reported off Somalia. “Vessels are urged to continue implementing Best Management Principles (BMP5) recommended practices while transiting these waters. The Somali pirates still maintain the capability for carrying out attacks,” the IMB cautioned.