Despite the deployment of Nigerian Navy vessels, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says that the Gulf of Guinea remains the world’s piracy hotspot.
The Gulf of Guinea, of which the Nigerian Navy is the leading naval force, stretches from Gabon to Liberia with the coastline include the Bights of Benin and Bight of Bonny.
Specifically, the IMB said that 17 crew members were kidnapped in three incidents between 45 and 75 nautical miles from the Gulf of Guinea coast.
IMB said in its latest report that seafarers face continuing threats from pirates and armed robbers on the world’s seas, stating that there have been 47 attacks in the first three months of 2020, up from 38 in the same period last year.
IMB’s 24-hour Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) recorded 21 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in the first quarter.
The PRC said that 12 of the attacks were on vessels underway at an average of 70 nautical miles off the coast.
Noting that all vessel types are at risk of the piracy attacks, PRC said that perpetrators are usually armed and approach targeted vessels in speedboats, boarding ships to steal stores or cargo and abduct crew to demand ransom.
The body also stated that 10 vessels were fired on worldwide last year, four reported being fired at within Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the first quarter of 2020.
The attack included the one on a container ship underway 130 nm southwest of Brass, Nigeria.
In another incident North-west of Sao Tome Island, another container ship was boarded by pirates. The crew retreated into the citadel and raised the alarm. On receiving the alert, the IMB PRC liaised with regional authorities and the vessel operator until the vessel was safe and the crew exited the citadel.
IMB is a specialized department of the Internal Chamber of Commerce charged with fighting crimes related to maritime trade and transportation, particularly piracy and commercial fraud.
It is also involved in protecting the crews of ocean-going vessels and publishes a weekly piracy report and maintains a 24-hour piracy reporting centre in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
Compared to the Gulf of Guinea, IMB’s latest global piracy report shows zero hijackings in the last two quarters and no incidents in the waters around Somalia.
IMB said that because there is no sign of a reduction in attacks worldwide, it is encouraging ship owners to remain vigilant and again called for continued international co-operation.
IMB Director, Mr Michael Howlett, said that “Navy patrols, onboard security measures, co-operation and transparent information exchange between authorities are all factors which address piracy and armed robbery.
“The threat to crew remains real – whether from violent gangs or opportunistic armed thieves inadvertently coming face-to-face with crew. Ships’ masters must follow industry best practice diligently and maintain watches. Early detection of an approaching pirate skiff is often key to avoiding an attack.”
Mr Howlett also said that “the IMB PRC commends regional coastal state response agencies and international navies in the Gulf of Guinea region for actively responding to reported incidents.”
With many attacks unreported, IMB advises seafarers in the region to follow the recently published Best Management Practices West Africa – BMP WA.
The IMB said that strategic deployment of marine police patrol vessels resulted in a continued decline in attacks on ships in most Indonesian anchorages and waterways – thanks to co-operation between the IMB PRC and the Indonesian Marine Police (IMP).
In quarter one, five anchored vessels were reported boarded. These are generally low-level armed robbery attacks.
The IMB PRC monitors the situation and continues to liaise with the IMP and local and regional authorities, stating that “five ships were boarded while underway in the Singapore Straits – where no attacks were reported last year in the first quarter. These low level armed robbery attacks are a distraction to crews navigating in congested waters. In one incident crew locked their assailants in a storeroom, which enabled their arrest.
“Other violence against seafarers includes kidnapping five crew for ransom in an attack on a fishing vessel off Sabah, Malaysia in January 2020. In March, at Macapa Anchorage, Brazil, a watchman was confronted on duty and held temporarily by a group of robbers. In the anchorage of Callao, Peru, three crew were apprehended by nine robbers who boarded to steal ship’s stores. Two crew were injured during the incident. Callao recorded five incidents in the last quarter of 2019 and three this quarter.”