IMB Reports Piracy and Robberies at Lowest Levels in Nearly 30 Years

piracy and armed robbery incidents continue to decline
IMB credits increased vigilance and coordination of forces but calls for persistence (Danish Defence file photo)

Published Jul 12, 2022 7:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

Global piracy and armed robbery incidents are at their lowest level in nearly 30 years due to increased vigilance and coordinated efforts to reduce the threat to seafarers. The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) issued its report for the first half of 2022 detailing that it received the lowest number of reported incidents for the first half of any year since 1994.

The report shows that there were a total of 58 incidents in the first six months of this year. While 55 vessels were boarded, the IMB report shows that only one vessel was hijacked. The total number of incidents was down nearly 15 percent from the 68 reports in the first half of 2021.

“Not only is this good news for the seafarers and the shipping industry, it is positive news for trade which promotes economic growth,” said Michael Howlett, the Director of IMB. “But the areas of risk shift and the shipping community must remain vigilant. We encourage governments and responding authorities to continue their patrols which create a deterrent effect.”

Not all the news, however, is good. During the period 23 crew were still taken hostage and five more were threatened. The IMB highlights that no crew have been kidnapped so far this year and it received no reports of vessels having been fired upon. Nonetheless, 96 percent of the incidents involved vessels being boarded with more than half the reports (32 in total) of vessels that were at anchor. Another 19 vessels were attacked while underway.

Further, while the overall number continues to decline, they also warned that hotspots persist with focus continuing on the Gulf of Guinea and the Singapore Strait. They are also highlighting a continued higher than average number of reports coming from the anchorage at Callao, Peru. Five of the reports included perpetrators armed with knives and in one case with a gun. Four of the crew taken hostage this year were also taken from the Callao anchorage.

A quarter of all the incidents reported globally in 2022 occurred in the Singapore Strait, an area that has also been highlighted by ReCAPP for the danger to ships underway in the busy sea lanes. Sixteen vessels have all boarded in the Singapore Strait so far in 2022 with weapons used in six of the incidents. The incidents are categorized by IMB as low-level opportunistic crimes. Typically, they included boarded the ships looking for spare parts or other material that can be stolen with most of the perpetrators leaving when they are discovered. 

In the same region, IMB also highlights a slight increase in reported incidents for the first time since 2018 in the Indonesian archipelagic. A total of seven reports were received in 2022 versus five last year. This year, five vessels were boarded at anchor and one each while the vessels were at berth and steaming. Weapons were reported in at least three incidents with one crew reported threatened.

While 20 percent of the reports continued to come from the Gulf of Guinea, the IMB shows a steady decline during the first half of the year in each of the past five years. Incidents were down by approximately half to 12 this year, which compares to 23 last year and a peak of 50 in the first half of 2018. Ten of the reports this year were defined as armed robberies with the remaining two as piracy.

They credit the better coordination in the region as helping to contribute to the decline in attacks on ships. As an example, they cite the attack on a Panamax bulk carrier in April 260 miles of the coast of Ghana. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre alerted and liaised with the regional authorities and international warships to request assistance. An Italian warship and its helicopter responded ensuring the safety of the crew and then escorting the bulker to port.

In its report, IMB however also highlights that 74 percent of the crew taken hostage globally this year happened in the Gulf of Guinea. They repeated calls for the coastal response agencies and independent international navies to continue their efforts to ensure this crime is permanently addressed.

Yesterday, leaders in the shipping industry, including the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO, Intertanko, Intercargo, and Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), joined together to show their support for the efforts being undertaken by Nigerian forces to reduce the threat of piracy in the region and the progress in the region. The shipping associations joined with the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Maritime Safety Agency (NIMASA), and the Nigerian Industry Working Group (NIWG), to launch a new strategy to end piracy, armed robbery, and kidnapping in the Gulf of Guinea.

In announcing their cooperation, they said the strategy establishes a mechanism to periodically assess the effectiveness of country-piracy initiatives and commitments in the Gulf of Guinea. Targeted at all stakeholders operating in the region, they said it will identify areas of improvement and reinforcement in order to eliminate piracy.

The IMB in its half-year report points out that vigilance is required even in areas after piracy ceases. They warned for example that the threat of piracy still exists in the waters of the southern Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden, which include the Yemeni and Somali coasts, despite no reported incidents in 2022.