Rise in piracy an 'extra stress' for Covid-hit shipping crews

15 October 2020

The focus of piracy attacks on shipping has shifted from the coast of Somalia to the Gulf of Guinea, according to a report.

The report, from the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB), said not a single incident of piracy has been reported around Somalia since 2018 but the first nine months of 2020 saw a 40% increase in the number of kidnappings reported in the Gulf of Guinea.

Pirates operating off the West African coast have also extended their range and it is becoming increasingly common for pirates armed with guns and knives to attack bigger groups of seafarers further off the coast.

The report said piracy and armed robbery on the world’s seas was on the rise, with 132 attacks in the first nine months of 2020, up from 119 incidents in the same period last year.

“Crews are facing exceptional pressures due to Covid-19, and the risk of violent piracy or armed robbery is an extra stress,” said Michael Howlett, director of IMB.

“While IMB liaises with authorities swiftly in case of a pirate attack, we encourage all coastal states and regional cooperations to take responsibility for ensuring maritime security within their EEZ [exclusive economic zone] to achieve safer seas and secure trade.”

Worldwide, 85 seafarers were kidnapped from their vessels and held for ransom, though 80 (95%) were taken in the Gulf of Guinea in 14 separate attacks which took place off Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.

There were also 134 cases of assault, injury and threats, with 112 vessels being boarded and six being fired upon.

The Gulf of Guinea also saw two fishing vessels hijacked.

One of the most dramatic attacks took place in a river near Guayaquil, Ecuador, when a container vessel was boarded by armed robbers who fired their weapons towards the accommodation and bridge.

The attackers opened containers and stole the contents before leaving.

The furthest attack from shore happened in July 2020 around 196 nautical miles southwest of Bayelsa, Nigeria, when eight pirates armed with machine guns boarded a product tanker.

The attackers held all 19 crew members hostage, stole documents and valuables and kidnapped 13 crew, who were eventually released a month later.

All types of vessels in the Caribbean, Central and South America were being targeted at anchor as well as at sea and during river passages, the IMB warned.

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