Caution Urged Despite Downturn in Reported Maritime Piracy Incidents

maritime piracy incidents
maritime piracy incidents
A total of 321 maritime piracy incidents were reported globally in 2021, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Image via ICC International Maritime Bureau.

Maritime piracy and armed robbery attacks in 2021 reached their lowest recorded level since 1994, according to the annual piracy report of the International Chamber of Commerce, published Jan. 13.

The chamber’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) attributes the drop in incidents to vigorous action taken by authorities, but it is also calling for continued coordination and vigilance to ensure the long-term protection of seafarers.

“While the overall reduction in globally reported incidents is welcomed, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre urges coastal states to acknowledge the inherent risk from piracy and armed robbery and robustly address this crime within the waters of their exclusive economic zone,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett. He added that the centre is committed to actively engaging and exchanging information with coastal states “to promote safety for seafarers and trade.”

Last year, the Piracy Reporting Centre received reports of 132 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships. The incidents comprise 115 vessels boarded, 11 attempted attacks, five vessels fired upon and one vessel hijacked.

The increased presence of international naval vessels and cooperation with regional authorities has had a positive impact, including actions of the Royal Danish Navy in neutralizing a suspected pirate action group in late November, according to the IMB. The bureau has said that the overall reduction in reported incidents in 2021 can be attributed to a decline of activity reported within the Gulf of Guinea region, which saw a decrease from 81 reported incidents in 2020 to 34 in 2021.

“However, while kidnappings at sea dropped 55% in 2021, the Gulf of Guinea continues to account for all kidnapping incidents globally, with 57 crew taken in seven separate incidents,” the IMB said in a statement.

Images via ICC International Maritime Bureau.

“While the regional decrease is welcomed, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre warns that the threat to seafarers persists and continues to urge crews and vessels plying these waters to be cautious as the perpetrators remain violent and risk to crews remains high,” according to the Maritime Bureau’s statement. “This is evidenced by the kidnapping of six innocent crew from a container vessel in mid-December.”

“The IMB commends the robust actions of the international navies and regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea which appears to have positively contributed to the drop in reported incidents … ensuring continued safety to crews and trade,” Howlett said. “While the IMB applauds these actions it further calls on the coastal states of the Gulf of Guinea to increase their collaboration and physical presence in their waters to ensure a long-term and sustainable solution to address the crime of piracy and armed robbery in the region.”

Thirty-five incidents against vessels navigating the Singapore Straits were reported to the Piracy Reporting Centre in 2021, a 50% increase from 2020 and the highest number of reported incidents since 1992. Vessels were boarded in 33 of the 35 incidents, considered mostly to be opportunistic thefts, though two crew were injured in two separate cases. The use of knives was reported in 13 incidents and guns in another two.

Efforts of the Indonesian Marine Police are credited with maintaining reduced levels of incidents in the Indonesian Archipelagic; reports received in 2021 were down to nine last year from 26 in 2020, the lowest since 1993. Of the reported incidents, four were off Jakarta, with the use of knives reported in at least five; one crew member was threatened.

In December, at Port au Prince, Haiti, four robbers disguised as fishermen and armed with guns and knives boarded a bulk carrier and threatened the duty crew. The locally appointed armed guards exchanged fire, resulting in two perpetrators being killed.

Also, South American ports in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, along with ports in Mexico and Haiti, continue to be affected by incidents of armed robbery at sea. Thirty-six incidents were reported in 2021, compared to 30 in 2020, with six crew threatened, four taken hostage and two assaulted.

Thirty-one vessels were reported boarded in total, the majority at anchor. Figures for the region include three reported attempted boardings and two vessels being fired upon. Incidents in the Peruvian anchorage of Callao more than doubled from eight in 2020 to 18 in 2021.

“While the direct threat of attacks from Somali-based pirates appears to have decreased—along with a further revision and reduction of the High Risk Area in September—the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre continues to encourage vigilance among shipmasters, particularly when transiting close to the Somali coast,” the IMB said.