Piracy and armed robbery at sea has fallen to its lowest levels since 1995, despite a surge in kidnappings off West Africa, according to a new report from the International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau (IMB).A great deal of the credit for the reduction in piracy should go to the IMB and its reports on the dangers to mariners of crimes at both at sea and in port which helped gather world-wide attention to the problem.
IMB's global piracy report shows 98 incidents in the first half of 2016, compared with 134 for the same period in 2015. When piracy was at its highest, in 2010 and 2003, IMB recorded 445 attacks a year.
In the first half of 2016, IMB recorded 72 vessels boarded, five hijackings, and a further 12 attempted attacks. Nine ships were fired upon. Sixty-four crew were taken hostage onboard, down from 250 in the same period last year.
"This drop in world piracy is encouraging news. Two main factors are recent improvements around Indonesia, and the continued deterrence of Somali pirates off East Africa," said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, whose global Piracy Reporting Centre has supported the shipping industry, authorities and navies for 25 years.
Especially useful have been the "Live Piracy Reports" and "Live Piracy Maps" which allow rapid assessment of trends in areas around the world. Here's the current 2016 Piracy Map showing piracy and armed robbery incidents occurring to date:
A change in tactics of sea criminals is noted:
Despite global improvements, kidnappings are on the rise, with 44 crew captured for ransom in 2016, 24 of them in Nigeria, up from 10 in the first half of 2015.Obviously, the kidnapping of crews is much easier to accomplish than the taking of the entire ship - and, unlike Somalia during its piracy heyday as a failed state, the keeping of hostages is less cumbersome than trying to park a ship somewhere.
"In the Gulf of Guinea, rather than oil tankers being hijacked for their cargo, there is an increasing number of incidents of crew being kidnapped for ransom," said Captain Mukundan.
The Gulf of Guinea accounted for seven of the world's 10 kidnapping incidents, with armed gangs boarding vessels 30 to 120 NM from shore. Nigerian attacks are often violent, accounting for eight of the nine vessels fired upon worldwide. IMB says many further assaults go unreported by shipowners.
IMB reported two further kidnap incidents off Sabah, where tugs and barges were targeted. And in early June, a tug and barge was hijacked off Balingian, Sarawak in Malaysia and its palm oil cargo stolen.
Various terrorist groups in Nigeria and the Southeast Asia have turned to hostage taking from vessels to fund their operations. See here and here. From the latter Tanker Operator link referring to the Gulf of Guinea:
“In addition, it may be that for the time being, the drop in oil prices has made oil theft a less lucrative proposition than kidnapping for ransom.
“There are indications that some kidnappers have such belief in their business model that they are increasing their logistical capacity to take in and hold more hostages, possibly for longer than is now normally the case. There are also signs that their understanding of the ‘kidnap market’ is evolving – in other words, they may be able to target their attacks with greater precision and demand higher ransoms."
Of course, there's always the story of Caesar's revenge on the pirates who held him for ransom, as set out here.