Piracy, hostage taking and attacks on ships’ crew may be perennial threats. This does not make them any less unacceptable.
Piracy and armed attacks against shipping are a global problem and require a concerted response by the international community at the highest level.
While serious threats continue in the Indian Ocean, as well as South East Asia, ICS is particularly concerned by the deteriorating security situation in the Gulf of Guinea where there has been a sharp increase in the number of attacks on ships’ crews, many extremely violent.
50 % of attacks unreported
The statistics are stark. The number of crewmembers being kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea increased by more than 50% in 2019, and 2020 began with a further escalation of violence, armed robbery and kidnapping.
Over 90% of global kidnappings at sea in 2020 took place in the Gulf of Guinea. Meanwhile, the crisis is deepening – pirates are bolder and taking greater number of hostages.
Moreover, the number of unsuccessful attacks against shipping by speed boats, many using automatic firearms and causing great fear and anxiety among crews, is also high, with perhaps as many as 50% of these estimated by IMB to be passing unreported.
In the last three months of 2018, 41 kidnappings were recorded by the IMB in waters off Nigeria alone. In October 2018, eleven seafarers were kidnapped from a container ship 70 nautical miles off Bonny Island, Nigeria. Two days later, Nigerian pirates in a speedboat hijacked a tanker underway 100 nautical miles off Point Noire, Congo, with eight of the 18 crew then being kidnapped.
These are just two examples of how armed criminals are reaching further out to sea and targeting a wider variety of ship including bulk carriers, containerships and general cargo vessels in addition to attacks on tankers, offshore support vessels and fishing boats
Outside territorial limits
Whereas the majority of attacks in the region in recent years had taken place in territorial waters, making intervention by foreign military vessels politically problematic, many vessels are now being attacked and boarded by pirates well outside territorial limits.
Previously many of these attacks had been principally motivated by the intention to steal cargo. Increasingly, however, seafarers are now routinely being kidnapped and taken into Nigeria where they are then held for ransom in the most appalling and terrifying conditions.
In April 2019, ICS in co-operation with other international shipping associations and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) made a submission to the IMO Maritime Safety Committee calling for a far more co-ordinated response by governments and military navies to support law enforcement in the region. As well as posing an unacceptable threat to seafarers, piracy also threatens the conduct of global trade.
A co-ordinated approach
The industry is also supporting a call by the Government of India for the United Nations to establish a diplomatic contact group with regular meetings to address the growing crisis, as it did with notable success to help resolve the surge of attacks off the coast of Somalia. Here, around 4,000 seafarers were taken hostage until order was eventually restored by the world’s military navies.
ICS and other international shipowners’ associations with military support created a website (www.maritimeglobalsecurity.org) dedicated to providing maritime security guidance to shipping companies and seafarers, as well as links to other useful maritime and military security resources.
Central to the website are new best practice guides developed by the industry to help companies and crews assess the risk of voyages and mitigate against external threats to safety.
Particularly important is a new publication: Global Counter Piracy Guidance for Companies, Masters and Seafarers, published in June 2018, containing detailed guidance on preventive measures that can be deployed around the world. This includes specific guidance on the type of threats which prevail in different regions. Tens of thousands of copies of this publication have been distributed to shipping companies around the world free of charge.
In June 2018, ICS and the other industry organisations also launched BMP5: a new edition of the very effective Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Safety in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Ships are strongly encouraged to adhere to this when trading in the Indian Ocean, where the possibility of a resurgence of Somali piracy is ever present, complicated by the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
In March 2019, the Round Table of international shipping associations plus OCIMF announced that the geographic boundaries of the High Risk Area for piracy in the Indian Ocean – which they set – had been reduced, with new advice issued to merchant ship operators. This followed extensive consultation with the military including the NATO Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), EUNAVFOR and United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which continue to provide critical advice and protection to merchant shipping in the region.
Nevertheless, in view of the continuing threat in the Indian Ocean, shipping companies are being urged to maintain full compliance with BMP5, and to be vigilant in the reporting of incidents, sightings of potential pirates and other suspicious activity, as this is vital to provide intelligence on risk levels in the area.