Seas off West Africa world’s worst for pirate attacks

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The seas around West Africa remain the world’s most dangerous for piracy, the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) latest report shows.

Of 75 seafarers taken hostage aboard or kidnapped for ransom worldwide so far this year, 62 were captured in the Gulf of Guinea – off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon.

Worldwide, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) recorded 78 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the first half of 2019, compared with 107 incidents for the same period of 2018. Overall, 57 vessels were boarded successfully, representing 73% of all attacks.

Pirates killed one person, took 38 crew members hostage and kidnapped a further 37 for ransom.

The IMB report reveals 73% of all kidnappings at sea and 92% of hostage-takings, happened in the Gulf of Guinea. Armed pirates in these high-risk waters kidnapped 27 crew members in the first half of 2019 and 25 in the same period in 2018. Two chemical tankers were hijacked as well as a tug then used in another attack. Of the nine vessels fired on worldwide, eight were off the coast of Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer. Attacks took place on average 65 nautical miles off the coast – classifying them as acts of piracy.

There are encouraging signs of improvement. IMB PRC reports “a welcome and marked decrease” in attacks in the Gulf of Guinea for the second quarter of 2019, commending the Nigerian navy for responding to reported incidents by dispatching patrol boats. While many attacks go unreported, IMB recorded 21 incidents around Nigeria to date in 2019, down from 31 in the same period of 2018.

Naval vessels from Equatorial Guinea and Spain intervened in May 2019 when a Nigerian tug was hijacked 41 nautical miles off Luba, Equatorial Guinea. Soon after, pirates used the tug to launch an attack on a Maltese heavy load carrier. The crew retreated into the ship’s citadel, a safe room for protection against attackers. When the navies responded pirates left the vessel and the crew were freed.

Stay alert

Despite the recent drop in Gulf of Guinea attacks, IMB urges seafarers in the region to remain vigilant and report all suspicious activity to regional response centres and the IMB PRC. “Early detection of an approaching suspicious craft is key to prevent boarding and give time to raise the alarm and retreat into a citadel, if needed,” said an IMB spokesperson.

In Malaysia, 10 crew members were kidnapped from two fishing boats off eastern Sabah in June. Nine crew are reported released.

Around Indonesia, ongoing information sharing co-operation between the Indonesian Marine Police and the IMB PRC continues to show positive results. The 11 incidents reported in Indonesian waters remains the lowest quarter two figure since 2009 when three incidents were reported.

Violent attacks in South America

A vessel was fired on in Guayas River after departing Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second largest city. This is the first time an incident involving weapon shooting was reported to the IMB PRC in Ecuador.

Elsewhere in South America, incidents of violent armed theft against ships at anchor were reported in Callao in Peru, Jose Terminal in Venezuela and Macapa in Brazil. On 2 May 2019, when armed robbers boarded a yacht in San Ignacio de Tupile, Panama, shooting and killing a family member and injuring another, the IMB PRC liaised with victims and authorities. The surviving family members including two children were rescued by Panamanian marine police.