Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95% of kidnappings from vessels in 2020

IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) received 195 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide in 2020, up from 162 in 2019, the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB)’s annual piracy report has stated. The incidents included three hijacked vessels, 11 vessels fired upon, 20 attempted attacks, and 161 vessels boarded.

The near 20% rise was attributed to an increase of piracy and armed robbery reported within the Gulf of Guinea as well as increased armed robbery activity in the Singapore Straits.

While 135 crew worldwide were kidnapped from their vessels in 2020, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for more than 95% of crew numbers kidnapped, with 130 crew members being kidnapped in the GoG in 22 separate incidents. Since 2019 the Gulf of Guinea has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of multiple crew kidnappings, with 39 crew kidnapped in two separate incidents during Q4 2020, a particularly busy quarter for attacks on ships in the region.

The IMB said that incidents in the Gulf of Guinea were particularly dangerous because more than 80% of attackers were armed with guns.

All three vessel hijackings and nine of the 11 vessels fired upon in 2020 related to this region. Crew kidnappings were reported in 25% of vessel attacks in the Gulf of Guinea – a higher percentage than any other region in the world., the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in its latest piracy report.

Once kidnapped, crew are removed from their vessel and tend to be held on shore until their release is negotiated. The furthest from land that a crew kidnapping occurred in 2020 was almost 200nm from land with the average kidnapping incident taking place just more than 60nm from land, according to IMB.

IMB advised vessels in the region to remain at least 250nm from the coast at all times, or until the vessel can transit to commence cargo operations at a berth or safe anchorage.

Michael Howlett, Director of the ICC International Maritime Bureau, said that “the latest statistics confirm the increased capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea with more and more attacks taking place further from the coast. This is a worrying trend that can only be resolved through increased information exchange and coordination between vessels, reporting and response agencies in the Gulf of Guinea Region. Despite prompt action by navies in the region, there remains an urgent need to address this crime, which continues to have a direct impact on the safety and security of innocent seafarers”.

Singapore Straits

The increase in incidents against vessels underway within the Singapore Straits continued, with 23 incidents reported for 2020. Vessels were boarded in 22 of the 23 incidents. Although considered low level – aimed at armed theft from the vessel – and tending to take place in the hours of darkness, one seafarer was injured, another taken hostage and two were threatened. Knives were reported in at least 14 incidents.


There were 26 low-level incidents reported in Indonesian waters in 2020, a fraction up from the 25 reported in 2019. Vessels continued to be boarded while anchored or berthed at Indonesian ports. During 2020 two crew were taken hostage and two were threatened. IMB said that “the continued efforts of the Indonesian Marine Police are credited for maintaining the reduced levels of reported incidents”.


No incidents of piracy and armed robbery were reported for Somalia during 2020. While there were no recorded incidents, the IMB PRC warned that Somalia pirates continued to possess the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean. In particular, the report warned that, “Masters and crew must remain vigilant and cautious when transiting these waters”.

In an article on the same topic in MarineLink,Munro Anderson of maritime security risk management firm Dryad Global took an in-depth look at the piracy situation off West Africa, asking the provocative question “Is neo-colonialism in the Gulf of Guinea the answer to West Africa’s maritime crime crisis?”

Aberson noted that in October 2020 China’s transport ministry established an ad hoc workgroup to lay down precautionary measures for ships and seafarers passing through the high piracy risk West African waters.

The move came as China told its vessels to up vigilance and to implement a series of precautionary measures to ensure the security of ocean-going vessels and seafarers in the region.

Plans outlined by Chinese Ministry of Transport spokesperson Wu Chungeng included strengthening the ability to collect safety information in areas with high risks, and to broadcast piracy activities and alerts via mutual channels. Similar calls for heightened vigilance were echoed by Chinese embassies in Togo and across West Africa.

WAF 2017 2018 2019 2020
Approach 21 19 10 25
Kidnapping 11 15 28 27
Attack 5 5 5 8
Fired Upon 10 21 19 11
Attempted 8 9 3 8
Boarded 15 19 13 21
Robbery 16 40 31 31
Hijack 1 2 8 1
Kidnapped Crew 111 156 177 138