Despite reports of global piracy declining for the second year in a row, the number of robbery incidents in the Singapore Strait reached a seven-year high in 2022 and vessels anchored in South American ports continue to be attacked by violent perpetrators. Global piracy and armed robbery numbers decreased in 2022, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC). Its latest annual report shows a 13% drop in overall attacks in 2022 compared to 2021, a reduction that is primarily attributed to the decrease in piratical activity in the waters of the Gulf of Guinea. A closer look at the figures also reveals a welcomed decline in reported robbery incidents at the Callao Anchorage in Peru, however, the levels of violence used by perpetrators towards the crew in many of the incidents reported from South American ports give cause for concern. So does the sustained rising trend of armed robberies against vessels in the Singapore Strait, and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) reported a 2% overall increase in total incidents in Asia in 2022 compared to 2021.
The increased presence of naval vessels and cooperation between coastal authorities in the Gulf of Guinea continue to positively impact the piratical activity reported in that region. The number of incidents reported from the region in 2022 decreased by 46% compared to 2021 and by a factor of four compared to 2020. Crew kidnappings have also decreased, from 57 crew members taken in seven separate incidents in 2021 to two crew members taken in a single incident in 2022. However, the IMB PRC emphasizes that the Gulf of Guinea waters are still dangerous despite the recent positive trend. The fact that two vessels were hijacked in 2022, with 29 crew held hostage, and another vessel was fired upon while steaming, demonstrates that the threat to innocent seafarers remains in these waters.
With Nigeria recording no incidents in 2022, Ghana and Angola have risen to the top of the list of West African countries reporting piracy incidents. In the Gulf of Guinea in 2022, more than two thirds of the incidents occurred while ships were anchored or berthed, and Takoradi Anchorage, Ghana, and Luanda Anchorage, Angola, were both included in the IMB PRC’s list of worldwide “Ports and anchorages with three or more reported incidents in 2022”. It is also worth noting that South Africa and Egypt made their first appearance in the IMB PRC’s annual report in more than six years.
The Indian Ocean High Risk Area (HRA) was removed in January 2023 after several years without any Somali pirate attacks. However, the IMB PRC warns that Somali pirates retain the capability and capacity to carry out attacks in the Gulf of Aden region and urges masters to remain vigilant. In a similar manner, the official announcement by the shipping industry to remove the HRA emphasises the importance of continuing to conduct thorough threat and risk assessments, as well as adhering to industry Best Management Practices (BMP), when transiting these waters. The Indian Ocean Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA) managed by the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO) remains in effect, and vessels entering the VRA are encouraged to report to the UKMTO and register with the Maritime Security Centre for the Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) in accordance with the BMP.
According to the ReCAAP ISC, 84 incidents were recorded in Asia in 2022, up from 82 in 2021. All but one, a fishing vessel approached by perpetrators in the South China Sea, were classified as armed robbery/petty theft – and the Singapore Strait remains Asia’s major source of concern.Incidents in the Singapore Strait continued to increase year on year with 55 in 2022 compared to 49 in 2021. The majority of these occurred at night in the Strait’s eastbound lane, with bulk carriers being the most frequently targeted ship type. Whilst the incidents were reported predominantly as low-level opportunistic thefts, with little physical injuries to crews, it is not uncommon for the perpetrators to be armed with knives and other weapon-like objects that are used to threaten the crew. In one of the incidents reported in 2022, a crew member sustained a serious injury to his foot after being shot by one of the perpetrators boarding his ship. The negative trend in the Singapore Strait seems to continue into 2023. Ten incidents were reported from ships underway in the Singapore Strait between 1 January and 20 February 2023, and the ReCAAP ISC advises ships to continue to exercise enhanced vigilance when transiting the Strait.On the positive side, no incidents of abduction of crew for ransom have been reported from the Sulu-Celebes Seas and Eastern Sabah region since January 2020 and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has downgraded the related threat level in the area from POTENTIALLY HIGH to MODERATE. The MODERATE threat level as per their orders, implies that ‘incidents are possible to occur but are relatively less severe in nature’. As a result, the ReCAAP ISC has updated its advisory to all ships to “consider re-route from the area as an option based on its prerogative”. However, masters and crew that do transit the area are strongly encouraged to exercise extra vigilance and report all incidents immediately to the Operation Centres of the Philippines and Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) of Malaysia.
With a total of 24 piracy and armed robbery incidents recorded in the South and Central America and the Caribbean waters in 2022, the IMB PRC’s five-year statistics shows a welcomed improvement for this region, which can be attributed in part to a 33% decrease in reported incidents in Peru’s Callao Anchorage in 2022.
However, ports in the South and Central America and the Caribbean, and particularly the Callao Anchorage, Peru and Macapa Anchorage, Brazil, continue to be affected by the crime of armed robbery and the perpetrators tend to be armed and violent. According to the IMB PRC, seven crew were taken hostage and six each assaulted and threatened in the region in 2022, making this region quite a risk for crew. The IMB PRC also notes that the majority of incidents reported from this region in 2022 occurred during the hours of darkness and when vessels were anchored.
The level of threat from piracy and armed robbery at sea, as well as the opportunity for and modus operandi of the perpetrators, differs from one region to another and may also change quickly. Prior to entering any piracy prone area, it is important to obtain updated information from local sources and security experts, review the ship security plan in light of the information received, conduct a voyage specific risk assessment, brief and train the crew and prepare and test the ship’s emergency communication plans. Relevant preventive measures must be adopted, following available industry guidance and best management practices (BMP). The potential consequences of not following industry best practices may be severe when transiting areas prone to piracy.As ships may be particularly vulnerable when at anchor, ship masters and crew should exercise extra vigilance when staying at high-risk ports/anchorages. Remember that a proper lookout is considered one of the most effective methods of ship protection. It can help identify a suspicious approach or attack at an early stage, allowing defenses to be deployed.