More crew were kidnapped at sea in 2016 than in any of the previous 10 years, despite global piracy reaching its lowest levels since 1998, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB’s) annual piracy report.
Its report for last year also makes note of the Gulf of Guinea as “a kidnap hotspot” and that only two incidents were reported off Somalia.
In its 2016 report, the IMB recorded 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on the world’s seas.
“The continued fall in piracy is good news, but certain shipping routes remain dangerous and the escalation of crew kidnapping is a worrying trend in some emerging areas,” said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB whose Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) has monitored world piracy since 1991.
“The kidnappings in the Sulu Sea between East Malaysia and the Philippines are a particular concern.”
Worldwide in 2016, 150 vessels were boarded, 12 vessels were fired on, seven were hijacked and 22 attacks were thwarted. The number of hostages fell to 151.
Maritime kidnappings, however, showed a threefold increase over 2015. Pirates kidnapped 62 people for ransom in 15 separate incidents in 2016. Just over half were captured off West Africa, while 28 were kidnapped from tugs, barges, fishing boats, and more recently merchant ships, around Malaysia and Indonesia.
The IMB has urged governments to investigate and identify kidnappers and punish them under law.
Mukundan said ships should stay vigilant in high-risk areas. “Shipmasters should follow the latest best management practices and where possible take early action to avoid being boarded. They should inform the IMB PRC or regional counter piracy centres for help and advice,” he said.
The Gulf of Guinea remained a kidnap hotspot in 2016, with 34 crew taken in nine separate incidents. Three vessels were hijacked in the region. There was a noticeable increase in attacks reported off Nigeria: 36 incidents in 2016, up from 14 in 2015. These included nine of the 12 vessels fired upon worldwide in 2016. Some were almost 100 nautical miles from the coastline.
The IMB recorded two incidents off Somalia. Pirates attempted to attack a container vessel in the Gulf of Aden in May and fired on a product tanker in the Somali basin some 300 nm from shore in October. For IMB, this latest incident demonstrates the capacity and intent to attack merchant shipping still exists off Somalia.
The kidnapping of crew from in transit merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea and their transfer to the Southern Philippines represents a notable escalation in attacks. In the last quarter of 2016, 12 crew were kidnapped from two cargo vessels whilst underway and an anchored fishing vessel. In November a bulk carrier was fired on but pirates were not able to board the vessel. Earlier in 2016, crew members were kidnapped in three attacks on vulnerable slow-moving tugs and barges.
The IMB advises charterers and owners to consider avoiding the Sulu Sea by routing vessels west of Kalimantan.
Meanwhile, Indonesian piracy incidents fell from 108 in 2015 to 49 in 2016. Although the overwhelming majority were low-level thefts, vessels were boarded in all but three of the incidents.