Crew Kidnapping Reaches 10-Year High


More crew were kidnapped at sea in 2016 than in any of the previous 10 years, despite global piracy reaching its lowest levels since 1998, the ICC International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) annual piracy report has revealed.

In its 2016 report, IMB has also recorded 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on the world's seas. This has increased by 93 incidents since IMB’s global piracy report for the first half of 2016 when it announced that piracy and armed robbery at sea has fallen to its lowest levels since 1995.

In the first half of 2016, IMB recorded 72 vessels boarded, five hijackings, and a further 12 attempted attacks. Nine ships were fired upon and there were 64 incidents of hostage taking on board, down from 250 in the same period last year.

IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) is the world's only independent 24-hour manned centre to receive reports of pirate attacks from around the world. It recorded 445 attacks a year when piracy was at its highest in 2010 and 2003.

Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, said: “The continued fall in piracy is good news, but certain shipping routes remain dangerous, and the escalation of crew kidnapping is a worrying trend in some emerging areas.

“The kidnappings in the Sulu Sea between East Malaysia and the Philippines are a particular concern.”

Worldwide in 2016, 150 vessels were boarded, 12 vessels were fired upon, seven were hijacked, and 22 attacks were thwarted. The number of hostages fell to 151.

Maritime kidnappings, however, showed a threefold increase on 2015. Pirates kidnapped 62 people for ransom in 15 separate incidents in 2016.

Just over half were captured off West Africa, while 28 were kidnapped from tugs, barges, fishing boats, and more recently merchant ships, around Malaysia and Indonesia.

IMB reported a surge in kidnappings off West Africa for the first half of 2016 in its global piracy report and is urging governments to investigate and identify the kidnappers and punish them under law and strongly urges all shipmasters and owners to report all actual, attempted and suspected piracy and armed robbery incidents to the IMB PRC.

This first step in the response chain is vital to ensuring that adequate resources are allocated by authorities to tackle piracy. Transparent statistics from an independent, non-political, international organisation can act as a catalyst to achieve this goal.

Mukundan added: “Shipmasters should follow the latest best management practices and where possible take early action to avoid being boarded. They should inform the IMB PRC or regional counter piracy centres for help and advice,” he said.

The kidnapping of crew from ocean going merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea and their transfer to the Southern Philippines represents a notable escalation in attacks.

In the last quarter, 12 crew were kidnapped from two cargo vessels underway and an anchored fishing vessel, and in November a bulk carrier was fired upon but pirates were not able to board the vessel.  

Earlier in 2016, crewmembers were kidnapped in three attacks on vulnerable slow-moving tugs and barges.

IMB advises charterers and owners to consider avoiding the Sulu Sea by routing vessels West of Kalimantan.

The Gulf of Guinea remained a kidnap hotspot in 2016 as 34 crew were taken in nine separate incidents and three vessels were hijacked in the region.

There was a noticeable increase in attacks reported off Nigeria with 36 incidents in 2016, up from 14 in 2015.

These included nine of the 12 vessels fired upon worldwide in 2016. Some were almost 100 nautical miles from the coastline.

Meanwhile, Indonesian piracy incidents fell from 108 in 2015 to 49 in 2016. Although the overwhelming majority were low-level thefts, vessels were boarded in all but three of the incidents.

IMB recorded two incidents off Somalia. Pirates attempted to attack a container vessel in the Gulf of Aden in May, and fired on a product tanker in the Somali basin some 300 nm from shore in October.

For IMB, this latest incident demonstrates that the capacity and intent to attack merchant shipping still exists off Somalia.

Peru reported 11 incidents – 10 of them at the country's main port of Callao – compared to zero in 2015. The number of incidents in Vung Tau, Vietnam dropped from 15 in 2015 to seven in 2016. Bangladesh also witnessed a welcome decrease, down from 11 in 2015 to three in 2016.

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