Gulf of Guinea still world’s piracy hotspot


Seafarers face continuing threats from pirates and armed robbers on the world’s seas, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said, reporting 47 attacks in the first three months of 2020, up from 38 in the same period last year.

The Gulf of Guinea remains the world’s piracy hotspot. Seventeen crew were kidnapped in three incidents between 45 and 75 nautical miles from the coast.

IMB’s latest global piracy report shows zero hijackings in the last two quarters and no incidents around Somalia. With no sign of a reduction in attacks worldwide, IMB encourages ship owners to remain vigilant and again called for continued international co-operation.

“Navy patrols, onboard security measures, co-operation and transparent information exchange between authorities are all factors which address piracy and armed robbery,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett.

“The threat to crew remains real – whether from violent gangs or opportunistic armed thieves inadvertently coming face-to-face with crew. Ships’ masters must follow industry best practice diligently and maintain watches. Early detection of an approaching pirate skiff is often key to avoiding an attack,” he added.

IMB’s 24-hour Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) recorded 21 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in quarter one. Twelve were on vessels underway at an average of 70 nautical miles off the coast. All vessel types are at risk. Perpetrators are usually armed. They approach in speedboats, boarding ships to steal stores or cargo and abduct crew to demand ransom.

Ten vessels were fired on worldwide last year, four reported being fired at within Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the first quarter of 2020. This included a container ship underway 130 nm southwest of Brass, Nigeria.

In another incident north-west of Sao Tome Island, another container ship was boarded by pirates. The crew retreated into the citadel and raised the alarm. On receiving the alert, the IMB PRC liaised with regional authorities and the vessel operator until the vessel was safe and the crew exited the citadel.

“The IMB PRC commends regional coastal state response agencies and international navies in the Gulf of Guinea region for actively responding to reported incidents,” Howlett said.

With many attacks unreported, IMB advises seafarers in the region to follow the recently published Best Management Practices West Africa – BMP WA.

Strategic deployment of marine police patrol vessels resulted in a continued decline in attacks on ships in most Indonesian anchorages and waterways – thanks to co-operation between the IMB PRC and the Indonesian Marine Police (IMP). In quarter one, five anchored vessels were reported boarded. These are generally low-level armed robbery attacks. The IMB PRC monitors the situation and continues to liaise with the IMP and local and regional authorities.

Five ships were boarded while underway in the Singapore Straits – where no attacks were reported last year in the first quarter. These low level armed robbery attacks are a distraction to crews navigating in congested waters. In one incident crew locked their assailants in a storeroom, which enabled their arrest.

Other violence against seafarers includes kidnapping five crew for ransom in an attack on a fishing vessel off Sabah, Malaysia in January 2020. In March, at Macapa Anchorage, Brazil, a watchman was confronted on duty and held temporarily by a group of robbers. In the anchorage of Callao, Peru, three crew were apprehended by nine robbers who boarded to steal ship’s stores. Two crew were injured during the incident. Callao recorded five incidents in the last quarter of 2019 and three this quarter.