Sea kidnappings reach 10-year peak

There has been a rise in crew kidnappings in Asia

More crew were kidnapped at sea in 206 than in any of the previous 10 years, the International Maritime Bureau has revealed.

The good news, if it can be called that, is that global piracy has fallen to its lowest levels since 1998. In its 2016 report, IMB recorded 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on the world’s seas.

But in Asia the kidnapping trends are rising.

“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,” said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB whose Piracy Reporting Centre has monitored world piracy since 1991.

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

Maritime kidnappings have shown a three-fold increase compared to 2015. Pirates kidnapped 62 people for ransom in 15 separate incidents in 2016. Just over half were captured off West Africa, whike 28 were kidnapped from tugs, barges, fishing boats, and more recently merchant ships, around Malaysia and Indonesia.

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.

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, with 34 crew taken in nine separate incidents. Three vessels were hijacked in the region. There was a noticeable increase in attacks reported off Nigeria: 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.

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