Gulf of Guinea confirmed as world piracy hotspot


Close on two hundred incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported worldwide last year, with the Gulf of Guinea cementing the west African body of water’s reputation as the world hotspot for these particular crimes.

Worldwide incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were up last year on 2019 with 195 reported to the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB’s) piracy reporting centre. In 2019, there were 162 incidents, the London headquartered IMB said in a statement.

The incidents included three hijacked vessels, 11 vessels fired upon, 20 attempted attacks, and 161 vessels boarded. The rise is attributed to an increase of piracy and armed robbery reported within the Gulf of Guinea as well as increased armed robbery activity in the Singapore Straits, the IMB said.

“Globally, 135 crew were kidnapped from vessels in 2020, with the Gulf of Guinea accounting for more than 95% of crew kidnapped. A record 130 crew members were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents. Since 2019, the Gulf of Guinea experienced an unprecedented rise in multiple crew kidnappings. In the last quarter of 2019 the area recorded 39 crew kidnapped in two separate incidents.

“Incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous as over 80% of attackers were armed with guns”, according to IMB figures. All three vessel hijackings and nine of 11 vessels fired on in 2020 related to this region. Crew kidnappings were reported in 25% of vessel attacks in the Gulf of Guinea – more than any other region in the world.

Once kidnapped, crew are taken from ships and can be held ashore until their release is negotiated. The furthest crew kidnapping in 2020 occurred 200 nautical miles (NM) from land with the average kidnapping incident taking place 60 NM from land, according to the IMB.

“The rise in kidnapping incidents further from shorelines demonstrates the increasing capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. Given these developments, IMB advises vessels in the region to remain at least 250 NM from the coast at all times, or until transit to commence cargo operations at a berth or safe anchorage starts.”

The Gulf covers 2.3 million square kilometres  and borders more than a dozen countries with experts saying most  pirates operate out of Nigeria’s delta region.

IMB director Michael Howlett said: “The latest statistics confirm increased capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea with more attacks further from the coast. This is a worrying trend that can only be resolved through increased information exchange and co-ordination between vessels, reporting and response agencies in the Gulf of Guinea region.

“Despite prompt action by navies in the region, there remains an urgent need to address this crime, which continues to directly impact the safety and security of innocent seafarers.”

The IMB received zero incidents of piracy and armed robbery in 2020 for Somalia. While there were no recorded incidents, the IMB piracy reporting centre warned Somalian pirates still haVE the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean. In particular, the report warns “masters and crew must remain vigilant and cautious when transiting these waters.”