Unprecedented number of crew kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea in 2019 despite drop in overall global numbers

A group of suspected pirates are apprehended by EU NAVFOR elements in the Gulf of Guinea. (Photo: UN.org)

Despite overall piracy incidents declining in 2019, there was an alarming increase in crew kidnappings across the Gulf of Guinea, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) annual piracy report.

In 2019, the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre received 162 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide, in comparison to 201 reported incidents in 2018. The incidents included four hijacked vessels, 11 vessels fired upon, 17 attempted attacks, and 130 vessels boarded, according to the latest IMB figures.

While the overall decline in piracy incidents is an encouraging development, vessels remain at risk in several regions, especially the Gulf of Guinea.

Gulf of Guinea

The number of crew kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea increased more than 50 per cent from 78 in 2018 to 121 in 2019. This equates to over 90 per cent of global kidnappings reported at sea with 64 crewmembers kidnapped across six separate incidents in the last quarter of 2019 alone.

The region accounted for 64 incidents including all four vessel hijackings that occurred in 2019, as well as 10 out of 11 vessels that reported coming under fire.

Singapore Straits

Similarly, the Singapore Straits experienced a rise in armed robbery attacks with 12 reported incidents in 2019, including 11 in the last quarter of 2019. The same region accounted for just three incidents for the entirety of 2018.

The IMB’s latest figures also report that vessels were successfully boarded in 10 incidents across the region last year.

Despite this rise, the IMB considers the intensity of the attacks in the Singapore Straits to be “low level” and usually limited to armed robbery from the vessel.


Armed robbery attacks in Indonesian ports are down from 36 incidents in 2018 to 25 in 2019.

Dialogue and coordination between the Indonesian Marine Police (IMP) and the IMB PRC has led to a decrease in regional incidents, according to the report.

Elsewhere, in the Indian sub‐continent, Bangladesh reported zero incidents for 2019. This is the first time since 2015 that no piracy or armed robbery incidents have been reported around Bangladesh.

No incidents in Somalia, but risks remain

Across the Indian Ocean, Somalia reported zero piracy incidents, yet the IMB PRC advises that vessels and crews remain cautious when travelling through the region.

In particular, the report warns that “Somali pirates continue to possess the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean.”

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