Global piracy incidents increase in 2020 with GoG in the lead

Satellite image of West Africa and Gulf of Guinea where the majority of piracy incidents take place. Credit: Google

In the first three months of 2020, 47 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships have been reported, up from 38 incidents in the same time period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its quarterly piracy report.

The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) remains the world’s piracy hotspot, accounting for nearly half, 21 of the attacks in 2020 so far, compared to 22 attacks in the first quarter of 2019.

Kidnapping risks are high in the region, with 17 out of a total of 22 crew kidnapped globally in only three incidents involving the MSC TALIA F in March, the Alpine Penelope in February, and the Ambika in January. The remaining five kidnapped crew members were ransomed in an attack on a fishing vessel off Sabah, Malaysia in January 2020.

The attacks in the GoG are taking place increasingly further away from the coastline at distances of between 45 and 75 nautical miles, making it harder for security forces to respond in time. The IMB warned that all vessel types navigating the GoG are at risk and the perpetrators of these attacks are usually armed and approach in speedboats, boarding ships to steal cargo and abduct crew members to demand a ransom.

Out of the four incidents of vessels being fired upon in 2020, all took place in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic zone, compared to ten in total in 2019, highlighting the violent means employed by assailants in the region.

Incidents of actual or attempted attacks have also increased in south east Asia, with five vessels boarded while underway in the Singapore Straits in Q1 compared to zero in 2019. However, crews operating in the area are becoming more vigilant and in one case locked the three aspiring robbers in the engine room facilitating their arrest.

Despite increased cooperation between the IMB and the Indonesian Marine Police there has been an increase in attacks in Indonesian anchorages and waterways from three in 2019 to five in 2020. Five vessels were also boarded in India, compared to one piracy incident in Q1 in 2019.

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