West Africa kidnappings soar in 2020 – IMB

Crew kidnappings and violent attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Guinea region off  West Africa region have increased dramatically this year, reports the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its latest piracy report.

There have been 77 seafarers taken hostage or kidnapped for ransom since January, accounting for more than 90% of maritime kidnappings worldwide this year. However, ship hijackings internationally were at their lowest since 1993, the report said, with only one being reported.

IMB Director Michael Howlett said that “violence against crews is a growing risk in a workforce already under immense pressure. In the Gulf of Guinea, attackers armed with knives and guns now target crews on every type of vessel.”

IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) recorded 98 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the first half of 2020, from 78 incidents in the corresponding period last year. So far this year, 49 crew have been kidnapped for ransom in the Gulf of Guinea and held captive on land for up to six weeks. There have been 32 crew kidnapped in the past three months.

Howlett said that “we need to change the risk-to-reward ratio for pirates operating within the Gulf of Guinea. Without an appropriate and proportionate deterrent, pirates and robbers will get more ruthless and more ambitious, increasing the risk to seafarers”.

Following a trend in ship hijacking off Somalia a decade ago, the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are operating further out to sea after patrols closer to shore were increased. Two-thirds of the vessels were attacked on the high seas, at distances ranging from 20nm to 130nm off the Gulf of Guinea coastline.

The report also reviews incidents in the Singapore Straits, Indonesia, Latin and South America.

Vessels were boarded 81 times in total. with 10 attempted attacks and six instances during which a vessel was fired upon.

The Singapore and Malacca Straits saw 11 incidents between January and June. Most of these were “opportunistic” and low-level, and were aborted once the alarm was raised.

Attacks in Indonesian anchorages and waterways however doubled in H1 2020 compared with the same period last year, from five to 10.

In South America the Callao, Peru anchorage and vessels off Ecuador were the locations for the most incidents. At least three container ships this year have been attacked while underway. The IMB said that it was recording more incidents in new areas of Latin America but feared that many attacks were going unreported. The report cites four attacks in Mexico during an 11-day period in April, all targeting offshore vessels. One anchored accommodation barge was boarded by six people wearing face masks and armed with automatic weapons and pistols. They attempted to enter and opened fire, injuring a crew member and damaging three windows. The alarm was raising the alarm and a naval boat was dispatched, but the attackers reportedly escaped with high-value project equipment.

There were 36 attacks against tankers, while 21 were against bulk carriers and 17 incidents against container ships. The remaining 24 attacks were on a variety of different types of ships. In most cases, the vessels were at anchor when attacked, although vessels underway were also being attacked. Vessels were less likely to be attacked while berthed.