The Italian Navy intervenes after a bulk carrier was attacked off the coast of Ghana on April 3, 2022. Credit: Italian Navy

Gulf of Guinea Crew Kidnappings Fall to Zero So Far in 2022, But Caution Urged

Mike Schuler
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April 13, 2022

The notoriously dangerous Gulf of Guinea saw a lull in crew kidnappings in the first three months of the year, but officials are urging continued caution as of the risk of piracy and armed robbery at sea remains, the ICC International Maritime Bureau said in its latest global piracy report.

The first three months of the 2022 saw 37 incidents piracy and armed robbery at sea worldwide, compared to 38 incidents over the same period last year. Nearly half them occurred in Southeast Asian waters, particularly in the Singapore Straits. In comparision, the Gulf of Guinea saw a welcomed decrease in the number of reported incidents, with only seven incidents reported, the IMB said.

But the IMB report urges sustained efforts are needed to ensure the continued safety of seafarers in West African waters, as highlighted by the January 24 hijacking of a product tanker off the coast of Ivory Coast during which all 17 crew were taken hostage (but not kidnapped). Reports of armed robberies have also been received within the anchorage waters of Angola and Ghana.

Worldwide, however, the first quarter 2022 was the first quarter since 2010 where no crew kidnappings have been reported, although violence against and the threat to crews continue with 23 crew taken hostage and a further four crew threatened.

Gulf of Guinea

There have been no reported crew kidnappings within Gulf of Guinea waters in Q1 2022, a welcome change compared to 40 crew kidnappings in the same period in 2021. The IMB notes that efforts taken by maritime authorities in the region, in addition to efforts of the regional and international navies, have resulted in a reduction of reported incidents from 16 in the first quarter of 2021 to seven over the same period in 2022. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, however, urges coastal response agencies and independent international navies to continue their efforts to ensure piracy is permanently addressed in these high risk waters.

The threat to innocent seafarers remains and is best exemplified with a recent attack where a Panamax sized bulk carrier was boarded by pirates 260 NM off the coast of Ghana on 3 April. This illustrates that despite a decrease in reported incidents, the threat of Gulf of Guinea piracy and crew kidnappings remains, the IMB said.

In the April 3 incident, an Italian Navy warship and its helicopter instantly intervened, saving the crew and enabling the vessel to proceed to a safe port under escort.

Singappore Straits

Almost 30% of all incidents reported globally since the start of 2022 have been against vessels navigating the Singapore Straits. While these are considered low level opportunistic crimes and fall under the definition of armed robbery crews continue to be at risk, according to the IMB. In the 11 reported incidents in these waters, two crew were threatened and one taken hostage for the duration of the incident, the IMB report shows. It has also been reported that, in at least one incident, a gun was used to threaten the crew.

“Perpetrators are armed in most incidents, putting crews at risk even in the low-level opportunistic incidents,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett said. “Coastal States are urged to increase efforts to identify and apprehend these criminals to enhance maritime security and facilitate safer trade across these important and strategic waterways.”

Outside the Singapore Straits, the information sharing cooperation between the Indonesian Marine Police and the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre continues to deliver positive results with only four incidents reported off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia, compared to two over the same period in 2021, according to the IMB.

Peruvian Waters

As a region, South American ports account for 27% of the global incidents, with 10 reported events. Particularly, Callao anchorage in Peru remains an area of concern, with six incidents reported in the first three months of 2022 compared to five incidents during the same period last year and only one in 2019, the report shows.

Three incidents were also reported in Macapa anchorage off the coast of Brazil. In two of these incidents, crews were either threatened or taken hostage, threatened with knives, tied up with their face covered with burlap for the duration of the incident.

Gulf of Aden

Although no incidents were reported there since the start of the year, the threat of piracy still exists in the waters off the southern Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden, which include the Yemeni and Somali coasts. Although the opportunity for incidents has reduced, the Somali pirates continue to possess the capability and capacity to carry out incidents, and all merchant ships are advised to adhere to the recommendations in the latest Best Management Practices, while transiting in these waters, the IMB said.

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