Crew alert: Piracy and weaponry increase in Q2

Bullets used in piracy attacks. Credit: CORNELISSEN, DANNY

There has been a notable increase in the use of weapons during piracy attacks, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Q2 results, increasing the threat that crews face.

The number of attacks involving guns and knives has risen from 35 in Q2 2019 to 53 in the same time period in 2020. Not only has the threat of violent attacks increased for crew, but the IMB Q2 results have also shown piracy incidents have increased globally this year by 26%.

The usual suspects for maritime piracy continue to top the list; the countries in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) region, the Singapore Strait, and Indonesia, made up the majority of locations for the 98 attempted and actual attacks in the first half of 2020. The GoG led the pack, making up 35 of the incidents, while the Singapore Strait reported 11 incidents of piracy compared with zero in the same time period in 2019, and Indonesia increased to 15 incidents compared to 11.

The piracy hotspots account for much of the rise in weapons used during attacks, with the GoG accounting for 70% of the incidents where a gun was used. Meanwhile, the Singapore Straits, Indonesia, and the Philippines made up 65% of the knife incidents. However, while attacks in other areas, such as South America, decreased slightly from 19 in 2019 to 17 this year the region was second highest in terms of gun use among pirates.

The IMB Q2 report confirmed the dramatic increase of kidnap and ransom (KAR) of crew and highlighted the GoG as a hotspot making up 49 of the 54 reported global kidnappings. The total has also increased significantly in 2020, compared to 37 in 2019 in the same time period. Crew are advised to remain vigilant in these areas, especially in West African waters where economic factors have led to pirates opting for KAR rather than just stealing cargo.

The piracy hotspot of the previous decade, Somalia and the Gulf of Aden had zero attacks to report. According to maritime experts this is thanks to the emergence of the BMP4 and use of private maritime security consultants (PMSCs) onboard to deter pirates. However, the IMB report warns that Somali pirates still retain the capacity to carry out attacks and so crew operating in the area should remain vigilant.

Security experts agree that the situation in West Africa is more complicated to tackle as pirates carry out incidents within the territorial waters of the GoG coastal states, where it is illegal for vessels to operate with PMSCs onboard despite their success in East Africa.

“Many of the incidents where guards were arrested was because shipowners and some PMSCs assumed that it was OK to use the Somali model in GoG,” said Peter Cook maritime security consultant. “On top of this, you have the endemic corruption which exists in Nigeria and other West African States to a greater or lesser extent, and secondly, the internal conflicts between Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, the Nigerian Maritime Police and the Nigerian Navy, all of which is extremely political”.

For now, crew operating in the GoG must follow the BMP West Africa booklet, published in March 2020, which advises crew to muster as quickly as possible in the citadel, as the last layer of defence when a piracy boarding is imminent, to avoid being kidnapped. Frequent drills and safety plan are also advised, to be conducted in accordance with the ship protection measures in place.