The ICC International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) latest piracy report, has indicated that crew kidnappings and violent attacks on vessels in the West African region have soared in 2020, with 77 seafarers taken hostage or kidnapped for ransom in the past seven months. The Gulf of Guinea, off West Africa, is increasingly dangerous for commercial shipping, accounting for over 90 per cent of maritime kidnappings worldwide.
IMB Director, Michael Howlett, said: “Violence against crews is a growing risk in a workforce already under immense pressure. In the Gulf of Guinea, attackers armed with knives and guns now target crews on every type of vessel. Everyone’s vulnerable.”
The IMB report also showed that ship hijackings are at their lowest since 1993. In total, its Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) recorded 98 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the first half (H1) of 2020, up from 78 in H2 2019.
It noted that piracy threats add to hardships already faced by hundreds of thousands of seafarers working beyond their contractual periods due to the COVID-19 restrictions on crew rotations and international travel.
“So far this year, 49 crew have been kidnapped for ransom in the Gulf of Guinea, and held captive on land for up to six weeks. Rates are accelerating with 32 crew kidnapped in the past three months alone. And they are happening further out to sea: two-thirds of the vessels were attacked on the high seas from around 20 to 130 nautical miles off the Gulf of Guinea coastline,” it stated.
IMB urged vessels to report any attacks promptly, and to liaise with coastal agencies, international navies and vessel operators, encouraging a quick response to deter piracy and armed robbery, and improve the security of seafarers.
Howlett said: “We need to change the risk-to-reward ratio for pirates operating within the Gulf of Guinea. Without an appropriate and proportionate deterrent, pirates and robbers will get more ruthless and more ambitious, increasing the risk to seafarers.”
In a recent incident commended by IMB, the Nigerian Navy responded quickly to a distress call from a fishing vessel boarded and hijacked by armed assailants in the Ivory Coast waters. As a result, the crew was saved and the ship was prevented from being used as a possible mother vessel to carry out further attacks.
In another incident, a product tanker was attacked while underway around 127 nm off Bayelsa, Nigeria. Eight armed pirates kidnapped 10 crew as well as stealing cash, personal valuables, and ship’s property.
The PRC had contacted regional and international authorities, and a Nigerian Navy Security Vessel was dispatched. A nearby sister vessel helped the four remaining crew members to sail the tanker to a safe port. The kidnapped crew was released three weeks later.