Piracy Incidents Rise Globally in 2023 Reversing Downward Trends

Reports of piracy attacks increased in the first nine months of 2023 with a large increase in the number of crew taken hostage (file photo)

Published Oct 11, 2023 1:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is reporting an increase in piracy activity globally against shipping during the first nine months of 2023 reversing a trend that had seen activity reach modern lows. The third quarter report shows that there has been an increase in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the Callao anchorage in Peru, and the Singapore Strait and Southeast Asia, the three primary hot spots for piracy, with an especially alarming rise in the number of crew being taken hostage in these incidents.

The number of incidents against ships globally was up 10 percent in the first nine months of 2023 versus 2022. In total, the IMB received reporting for 99 attacks up from 90 in the first nine months of 2022. The increase also exceeded the level of activity in 2021, when 97 incidents were recorded in the first nine months of the year.

While the IMB believes most of the attacks are opportunistic, they are highlighting that the pirates have become more effective in their tactics. Perpetrators boarded 89 percent of the vessels they targeted or a total of 85 ships in the first nine months of 2023. Most often it was bulkers, which accounted for 40 of the vessels attacked, but tankers and containerships were also targeted as were smaller vessels including commercial fishing boats.

The incidents were nearly evenly split between vessels anchored or underway. A total of 51 were anchored when they were attacked while 40 were underway. Only eight ships were at berth when they were attached.

The number of crew that were taken hostage during the incidents nearly tripled (from 27 to 69), with the IMB noting the violent nature of some of the attacks. For example, in April when the Singapore-flagged product tanker, MT Success 9 was attacked around 307 nm south-southwest of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the vessel was boarded by twelve pirates wearing ski masks and gloves and armed with guns. Hijacking the tanker, the crew was restrained with cable ties and kept hostage as part of the oil cargo was stolen. Before leaving the vessel, the pirates also destroyed the tanker’s navigational equipment. 

"The Gulf of Guinea stands as a region of concern with a rise in reported incidents, as opposed to the downward trend we have seen in the past two years,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett. During the first nine months of 2023, the number of reported incidents reached 21 compared to 14 last year, and notably in addition to the 51 crew held hostage, 14 were kidnapped versus none in 2022, and two crew were injured in the incidents. Most of the incidents in the region took place in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and The Congo.

Southeast Asia however remains the primary area for piracy attacks. Of the 99 reported incidents globally, 53 were in Southeast Asia and specifically 33 in the Singapore Strait. The IMB notes that 25 percent of the incidents were reported in July. While most of the reports continued to be petty crimes with ship stores or property stolen, they however noted that five crew were taken hostage and two were threatened during 31 boarding in the Singapore Strait.

Elsewhere in the world, the IMB received reports for an increased number of incidents also in the Callao Anchorage in Peru. There nine crew were taken hostage during 13 incidents. The organization also recorded an increase in the number of incidents in the Indonesian archipelago.

The IMB renewed its calls for regional efforts to safeguard shipping and trade as the number of incidents is again on the rise. Further, they also expressed concern over the risk of late or underreporting of incidents. They commended local authorities for investigating nearly all reported incidents while noting that late reporting hampers the efforts of the authorities.