IUMI 2020: Growth in maritime crime threatens to become a trend

There has been a 25% year on year increase in maritime crime in 2020 compared with the same period last year, reported Richard Luckyn-Malone, director of London, UK-based strategic intelligence firm Herminius at yesterday’s IUMI 2020 Policy Forum Workshop, which traditionally take a “big picture” look at matters affecting the marine industry at a strategic level.

Malone observed that 2019 had been a particularly safe year for piracy at sea, but that there were concerns that the increases this year could be the beginnings of a trend.

The Covid-19 pandemic had contributed a number of factors that threatened the maritime sector, said Malone.

  • World trade contracted sharply in the second quarter of 2020, leading to economic pressure on maritime communities and therefore an increased temptation amongst affected parties to turn to crime
  • There had been a significant increase in migration, which posed a risk to shipping
  • Pressures of work on seafarers increased the risk of industrial action
  • The delays to crew rotations meant (a) increased fatigue and (b) a greater likelihood that relationships could be developed with criminal elements
  • Increased danger of crew abandonment – 21 cases had been recorded this year
  • There was downward pressure on security measures because of the economic impact of Covid-19. Shipping companies were making economies, while governments were facing increased internal economic and political difficulties, leading them to divert security funds from the sea to the land
  • There had been an increase in narcotics trafficking by sea, partly because Covid-19 had made many border crossings by land either more difficult or even impossible
  • The increase in the amount of floating storage during the pandemic because of an imbalance between production and consumption had led to increased political risks and danger of piracy

Malone focused on three particular geographical areas:

  • Gulf Of Guinea
  • South East Asia
  • Central and South America

In the Gulf of Guinea Malone observed that increased security activity by Nigeria within its EEZ had, predictably, led to an increase in piracy outside of Nigeria’s EEZ. The areas around Equatorial Guinea, Benin and Gabon had seen heightened levels of activity, with an increase in the average distance of attacks from shore.

Malone said that there were geopolitical problems associated with this as other countries in the region were understandably reluctant to permit vessels with Nigerian naval security forces on them patrolling their own waters. Nigeria in turn has, in general, stopped vessels from deploying their own armed security guards. Malone also thought it was something of a pity that Nigeria’s first arrest under its new anti-piracy laws was of employees of a security company who were attempting to make a ransom payment to secure the release of kidnapped crew.

In a later Q&A, Malone said that there was a considerable contrast between the way the world had reacted to the surge in piracy of the Somalian Coast and spreading outwards off East Africa over the years. While there had been considerable European and US cooperation on this matter, this had been absent in the case of West Africa. Meanwhile, Nigeria was preventing the response chosen by many shipowners when the East African threat was at its height – armed guards on board vessels who were quite prepared to shoot back.

Malone said that we might need to look to a different type of international cooperation, between the countries currently most impacted by the current situation. This could include Brazil, which had a considerable naval force, South Africa, and perhaps even China, which had considerable fishing activity in the region.

In South East Asia the recent incidents of piracy reported by ReCAAP had tended to be opportunistic burglary during the hours of darkness. Malone’s concern was that if such incidents were not dealt with efficiently there was a danger of more serious crimes such as kidnapping or hi-jacking emerging.

Central and South America were regions of significant concern for two main reasons, said Malone. The first was that this area, against the general trend, reported an increase in maritime crime in 2019, compared with 2018. This trend had continued this year. The second problem was that there was a lack of regional cooperation in fighting the threat.