Gulf of Guinea piracy warning from IMB

OCTOBER 22, 2012 — The number of ships reporting attacks by Somali pirates has fallen this year to its lowest since 2009, says a report from the International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau (IMB). The drop in Somali piracy has brought global figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea down to 233 incidents this year – the lowest third quarter total since 2008.However, IMB warns seafarers to remain vigilant in high-risk waters around Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea and says that violent attacks and hijackings are spreading in the Gulf of Guinea.

Worldwide this year, pirates have killed at least six crew and taken 448 seafarers hostage. The IMB Piracy Reporting Center recorded that 125 vessels were boarded, 24 hijacked and 26 fired upon. In addition, 58 attempted attacks were reported.

In the first nine months of 2012, there were 70 Somali attacks compared with 199 for the corresponding period in 2011. And from July to September, just one ship reported an attempted attack by Somali pirates, compared with 36 incidents in the same three months last year.

IMB says policing and interventions by international navies are deterring pirates, along with ships' employment of Best Management Practice including the use of armed guards and other onboard security measures.

"We welcome the successful robust targeting of Pirate Action Groups by international navies in the high risk waters off Somalia, ensuring these criminals are removed before they can threaten ships," said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, a membership organization that has monitored world piracy since 1991. "It's good news that hijackings are down, but there can be no room for complacency: these waters are still extremely high-risk and the naval presence must be maintained."

As of September 30, 2012, suspected Somali pirates were holding 11 vessels for ransom with 167 crew members as hostages onboard. In addition, 21 kidnapped crew members are being held on land. IMB says more than 20 hostages have now been held for over 30 months.

The Gulf of Guinea is becoming increasingly dangerous with 34 piracy incidents from January to September 2012, up from 30 last year and the problem has been spreading westward from Benin to neighboring Togo. IMB said attacks are often violent, planned and aimed at stealing refined oil products which can be easily sold on the open market. To cover their tracks once the vessel is hijacked, pirates damage the communications equipment and at times even the navigation equipment.

Togo reported more attacks this year than in the previous five years combined, with three vessels hijacked, two boarded and six reporting attempted attacks. Off Benin, one ship was hijacked and one boarded. Nigeria accounted for 21 attacks, with nine vessels boarded, four hijacked, seven fired upon and one attempted attack.

Not all navies in the Gulf of Guinea have the resources to fight piracy far out at sea, so criminal gangs shift to other areas. The Nigerian navy must be commended however on its reactions to a number of incidents where their presence was instrumental in rescuing vessels, said Captain Mukundan.

Indonesia recorded 51 incidents in the first nine months of 2012, up from an annual 2011 total of 46. Attacks tended to be opportunistic and mainly carried out onboard vessels at anchor. Vessels were boarded in 46 of the 51 reports, which IMB highlights as a cause for concern.

Elsewhere in South East Asia, ships have been hijacked this year in the Malacca Straits, South China Seas and around Malaysia. IMB warned that these waters are still not entirely free of piracy or armed robbery and vessels should remain vigilant and alert.