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IMB Reports Q1 Piracy Decline but Increase in Violence Against Crews

Published Apr 14, 2021 5:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released its quarterly report on maritime piracy showing that there was an overall decline in incidents in the first quarter of 2021. However, they cautioned that while the number of reported piracy attacks against commercial shipping declined in 2021, violence against crew is on the rise with the Gulf of Guinea remaining the world’s piracy hotspot in 2021.

"Seafarers are in many respects the unsung heroes of our global economy,” said ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO. “Governments, businesses, and maritime response agencies must take appropriate measures to protect the lives and livelihoods of crew, so that we can ensure the uninterrupted free flow of goods throughout international supply chains."

During the first three months of 2021, the IMB report shows a total of 38 incidents compared with 47 a year ago. The Gulf of Guinea accounted for nearly half (43 percent) of all reported piracy incidents in the first three months of 2021, according to the latest figures. The Singapore Straits, as also reported by ReCAAP, remains an active spot for piracy and the IMB also reported an increase near the Callao Anchorage, Peru. While other geographies of the world remained dangerous, the number of incidents remained low and mostly stable versus last year.

The major of incidents however remains boarding with 33 reported in 2021 and two more attempted. Two vessels also reported being fired upon and one was hijacked. The number of piracy assaults was nearly evenly split between 20 on vessels that were underway and 16 that were at anchor. Berthed vessels are far less likely to be targeted.

Despite a drop in the number of reported piracy incidents for Q1 2021, violence against crews is on the rise in comparison to previous years the IMB reports. Since the start of 2021, 40 crew have been kidnapped compared to 22 crew a year ago and one crew member was also killed in Q1 2021. 

While the IMB PRC commends the active response efforts in the Gulf of Guinea by the coastal response agencies and independent international navies, they continue to highlight the dangerous nature of the region and are encouraging continuing the efforts in making the waters safer for the seafarers. The Gulf of Guinea continues to be particularly dangerous for seafarers accounting for nearly half of all reported piracy incidents. All the kidnappings and the one crew fatality also occurring in the region. 

“Pirates operating within the Gulf of Guinea are well-equipped to attack further away from shorelines and are unafraid to take violent action against innocent crews” warns IMB Director Michael Howlett. “It’s critical that seafarers remain cautious and vigilant when traveling in nearby waters and report all incidents to the Regional Authorities and the IMB PRC. Only improved knowledge sharing channels and increased collaboration between maritime response authorities will reduce the risk to seafarers in the region.” 

In other geographies, the IMB reports that only one vessel, a bulk carrier, was approached near Somalia and the onboard armed security team fired warning shots resulting in the skiff moving away. Similarly, in Indonesia, the IMB reports positive results in part due to information sharing with a decline to only two anchored vessels reporting incidents this year compared to five last year.

The IMB warned of what it believes are mostly opportunistic attacks in the Singapore Straits but cautioned that in some cases the perpetrators were armed with knives. The IMB recorded six piracy incidents in Q1 2021 compared to five during the same period last year in the Singapore Straits.

They are also reporting an uptick of reported piracy incidents in Callao Anchorage, Peru with five incidents occurring in the first three months of 2021 compared to just three in Q1 2020. Container vessels they reported are also the target of attacks while underway or at anchor in Colombian waters. Perpetrators have been known to open containers and steal cargoes even while vessels are under pilotage say the IMB.

The IMB continues to encourage prompt reporting of all incidents. Founded in 1991, the IMB Piracy Reporting Center tracks reports of piracy and armed robbery to assist ships and provide the maritime industry, response agencies, and governments with the data needed to respond to incidents.