A surge in armed attacks against ships around West Africa is pushing up global levels of piracy and armed robbery at sea, warns the International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre recorded 66 incidents in the first quarter of 2018, up from 43 for the same period in 2017, and 37 in Q1 2016.
Worldwide in the first three months of 2018, 100 crew were taken hostage and 14 kidnapped from their vessels. A total of 39 vessels were boarded, 11 fired upon and four vessels hijacked. IMB received a further 12 reports of attempted attacks.
The Gulf of Guinea accounts for 29 incidents in 2018 Q1, more than forty percent of the global total. Of the 114 seafarers captured worldwide, all but one were in this region.
All four vessels hijackings were in the Gulf of Guinea, where no hijackings were reported in 2017. Two product tankers were hijacked from Cotonou anchorage in mid-January and early February, prompting the IMB PRC to issue a warning to ships. Towards the end of March, two fishing vessels were hijacked 30nm off Nigeria and 27nm off Ghana.
“The hijacking of product tankers from anchorages in the Gulf of Guinea is a cause of concern. In these cases, the intent of the perpetrators is to steal the oil cargo and kidnap crew. The prompt detection and response to any unauthorised movements of an anchored vessel could help in the effective response to such attacks,” commented an IMB spokesperson.
Nigeria a piracy hotspot
Nigeria alone recorded 22 incidents. Of the 11 vessels fired upon worldwide, eight were off Nigeria – including a 300,000DWT VLCC tanker more than 40nm off Brass.
“Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are against all vessels. Crews have been taken hostage and kidnapped from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels as well as product tankers. In some cases, the attacks have been avoided by the early detection of an approaching skiff, evasive action taken by the vessel and the effective use of citadels. The IMB is working with national and regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea to support ships and coordinate counter piracy actions. The authorities from Benin, Nigeria and Togo have sent out boats in response to several incidents,” said an IMB spokesperson.
Somalia risk remains
One incident was reported off Somalia, where a product tanker was fired upon and chased by two skiffs around 160nm SE of Hobyo. At the end of March, a 160,000DWT tanker reported being fired upon in the Gulf of Aden, while transiting within the Maritime Security Transit Corridor. The distance from land, sighting of ladders and firing upon ships continues to illustrate that the Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to attack merchant shipping in the wider Indian Ocean.
Indonesia recorded nine low level attacks against anchored vessels. Five bulk carriers reported actual or attempted attacks at Muara Berau anchorage in Samarinda, while waiting to load coal cargoes.
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