Piracy Plummets in Gulf of Guinea

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Published Apr 15, 2022 1:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

Southeast Asian waters are replacing the Gulf of Guinea as the most dangerous for commercial shipping, accounting for nearly half of piracy incidents in the first quarter of this year.

The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB)'s quarterly piracy and armed robbery report shows a nearly flat top-line number for maritime piracy incidents, with 37 recorded in the first three months of 2022 compared to 38 incidents over the same period last year. However, nearly half (41 percent) occurred in Southeast Asian waters, particularly in the Singapore Straits.

The Gulf of Guinea, which accounted for nearly half (43 percent) of all reported piracy incidents in the first three months of 2021, recorded a significant decline in maritime piracy. Only seven incidents were reported in the first three months of the year.

“Sustained efforts are however needed to ensure the continued safety of seafarers in the West African region that remains dangerous as evidenced by the hijack of a product tanker off the coast of Ivory Coast on 24 January, during which all 17 crew were taken hostage. Reports of armed robberies have also been received within the anchorage waters of Angola and Ghana,” said IMB. 

IMB believes that concerted and sustained efforts to eliminate piracy in the volatile waters of the Gulf of Guinea are bearing fruits, with no reported crew kidnappings during the quarter compared to 40 crew kidnappings in the same period in 2021. The efforts of the regional and international navies have also resulted in a reduction of reported incidents from 16 in the first quarter of 2021 to seven over the same period in 2022.

Threat to seafarers remain and is best exemplified by the recent attack on the Panamax bulk carrier Arch Gabriel, which was boarded by pirates 260 NM off the coast of Ghana on April 3. Italian Navy warship Luigi Rizzo and its helicopter intervened, saving the crew and enabling the vessel to proceed to a safe port under escort.

Worldwide, this was the first quarter since 2010 where no crew kidnappings were reported, although violence against and threats to crews continued. 23 seafarers were taken hostage and a further four were threatened.

The Singapore Straits has become a dangerous sea route for commercial shipping accounting for almost 30 percent of all incidents during the period. Though the reported incidents are considered low-level opportunistic crimes and fall under the definition of armed robbery, they continue to pose risks to crews. In the 11 reported incidents in the Singapore Straits waters, two crew were threatened and one taken hostage for the duration of the incident. In at least one incident, a gun was used to threaten the crew.

“Perpetrators are armed in most incidents, putting crews at risk even in the low-level opportunistic incidents. Coastal states are urged to increase efforts to identify and apprehend these criminals to enhance maritime security and facilitate safer trade across these important and strategic waterways,” said Michael Howlett, IMB Director.

Outside the Singapore Straits, four incidents were reported off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia, compared to two over the same period in 2021.

According to IMB, Peruvian waters are an area of concern. The South American nation's ports accounted for 27 percent of global incidents, with 10 reported events. Six incidents were reported in the Callao anchorage compared to five incidents during the same period last year and only one in 2019.

Three incidents were also reported in Macapa anchorage off the coast of Brazil. In two of the incidents, seafarers were either threatened or taken hostage, threatened with knives, tied up with their face covered with burlap for the duration of the incident.

Although no incidents were reported in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy still exists in the waters off the southern Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden, including the Yemeni and Somali coasts. Despite a long-running lull, Somali pirates continue to possess the capability and capacity to carry out incidents, with merchant ships advised to remain alert while transiting in these waters.