IMB: Global Piracy Reached a 28-Year Low in 2021

28 year low in piracy and attacks against merchant ships
IMB cites the international efforts contributing to the 28-year low in piracy against merchant ships (Danish Armed Forces file photo)

Published Jan 13, 2022 7:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

Maritime piracy and armed robbery attacks reached the lowest recorded level since 1994, according to the newly released annual report of the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB). The organization which was founded in 1991 to be a single point of contact to report all crimes of maritime piracy and armed robbery, attributes the drop in incidents to vigorous action taken by authorities helping to bring reports to a 28-year low.
In 2021, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre received 132 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships. By comparison in 2020, they had 195 instances of piracy and armed robbery worldwide, up from 162 in 2019. The rise in recent years was attributable 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 the overall reduction in globally reported incidents is welcomed the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre urges coastal states to acknowledge the inherent risk from piracy and armed robbery and robustly address this crime within the waters of their exclusive economic zone,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett. 

The organization highlights that while activity was down in the past year there were still reports of 115 vessels boarded worldwide, while at least 11 more failed. IMB data says that five vessels were fired upon with one reported hijacking. Significantly, despite the overall decline in activity, 57 seafarers were still kidnapped in 2021 with eight others taken hostage and one killed. 

IMB continues to call for continued coordination and vigilance to ensure the long-term protection of seafarers. The data shows that crews are equally at risk at anchor or underway with last year’s incidents nearly evenly split with on dock being the least likely place for ships to be boarded or attacked. Bulkers, in part due to their sheer number, lead the way with the most attacks, 47 in total, but containerships and tankers each reported approximately 30 incidents during the year.

The overall reduction in reported incidents in 2021 is attributed to a decline of activity reported within the Gulf of Guinea region, which the IMB report says saw a decrease from 81 reported incidents in 2020 to 34 in 2021. However, while kidnappings at sea dropped 55 percent in 2021, the Gulf of Guinea continues to account for all kidnapping incidents globally, with 57 crew taken in seven separate incidents, including six crew from a container vessel in mid-December.

“The IMB commends the robust actions of the international navies and regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea which appears to have positively contributed to the drop in reported incidents and ensuring continued safety to crews and trade,” said Howlett. “While the IMB applauds these actions it further calls on the coastal states of the Gulf of Guinea to increase their collaboration and physical presence in their waters to ensure a long term and sustainable solution to address the crime of piracy and armed robbery in the region.”

The other area that continues to be the most dangerous for seafarers remains to be the Singapore Straits. Overall, there was a 50 percent increase with 35 incidents against vessels navigating in the busy traffic lane, which was the highest number of reported incidents since 1992. Vessels were boarded in 33 of the 35 incidents, considered mostly to be opportunistic thefts, though two crew were injured in two separate cases. Knives were also reported in 13 of the reported incidents and guns in a further two. However, elsewhere in the region piracy was down with the IMB reporting just nine incidents in the Indonesian Archipelago, the lowest level since 1993. Four were off Jakarta and knives were reported in at least five, with one crew being directly threatened.

South American ports in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, and ports in Mexico and Haiti also continued to be affected by incidents of armed robbery at sea. Thirty-six incidents were reported in 2021 compared to 30 in 2020, with six crew threatened, four taken hostage and two assaulted. Thirty-one vessels were boarded with the majority at anchor. The IMB highlights that incidents in the Peruvian anchorage of Callao more than doubled to 18 in 2021.

IMB encourages all shipmasters and owners to report all actual, attempted, and suspected global piracy and armed robbery incidents as a vital first step to ensuring adequate resources are allocated by authorities to tackle maritime piracy.