Pirates and armed robbers on the high seas attacked 43 ships and captured 58 crew in the first quarter of 2017, a slight increase from the same period last year, according to a report published this week by the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre.
The quarterly report highlights continued violence in piracy hotspots off Nigeria and around the Southern Philippines – where two crew members were killed in February. Indonesia also reported frequent incidents, mostly low-level thefts from anchored vessels.
Armed pirates off the coast of Somalia hijacked two vessels, marking the first hijacking of merchant ship in the area since May 2012. Four attempted incidents were also reported.
In total, 33 vessels were boarded and four fired upon in the first three months of 2017.
Gulf of Guinea kidnappings
Of the 27 seafarers kidnapped worldwide for ransom between January and March 2017, 63% were in the Gulf of Guinea, the IMB said.
Off the coast of Nigeria, where the majority of kidnappings occur, a total of 17 were crew taken in three separate incidents, up from 14 in the same period last year. All three vessels – a general cargo ship, a tanker and a bulk carrier – were attacked while underway 30-60 nautical miles off the Bayelsa coast. Three more ships were fired upon at up to 110 nautical miles from land, and many other attacks are believed to go unreported.
“The Gulf of Guinea is a major area of concern, consistently dangerous for seafarers, and signs of kidnappings increasing. IMB has worked closely with the response agencies in the region including the Nigerian Navy which has provided valuable support, but more needs to be done to crack down on the area’s armed gangs. We urge vessels to report all incidents so that the true level of piracy activity can be assessed,” said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB.
Growing violence around the Southern Philippines
In the Southern Philippines, nine ships reported attacks in the first quarter of 2017 compared with just two in the same period last year. These include an armed attack on a general cargo vessel in which two crew were killed and five kidnapped for ransom. Kidnappers captured five more people in attacks on a fishing trawler and a tug.
According to IMB, militant activity may be behind the escalating violence in waters around the Southern Philippines. Armed groups use speedboats to target seafarers and fishermen in slow-moving, low vessels.
Areas such as the Sulu Sea and Sibutu Passage are particularly risky. IMB recommends that ships avoid these waters by transiting West of Kalimantan, if possible – and, as ever, follow the industry’s latest best practice measures, to protect against attacks.
First Somali hijackings in five years
Somali pirates successfully hijacked a small bunkering tanker and a traditional dhow, both within their territorial waters. A total of 28 crew were taken hostage and subsequently released within a relatively short time.
The IMB suspects that these incidents were opportunistic, as the hijacked vessels were not following recommendations of the internationally-recognized Best Management Practices for protection against Somali piracy, commonly referred to as BMP4.
“IMB continues to encourage all vessels transiting waters around Somalia to follow the BMP4 recommendations. The recent attacks should serve as a warning against complacency, as Somali pirates are still capable of carrying out attacks,” said Mr Mukundan.
“The presence of international navies who patrol these waters is extremely important as it provides an added layer of deterrence to the pirates and more importantly helps to secure one of the most important trade routes of the world,” he added.