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Piracy and armed robbery incidents at the lowest level in decades, but IMB cautions against complacency

18 October 2021

The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports the lowest levels of piracy and armed robbery for the first nine months of any year since 1994, in its latest Piracy and Armed Robbery report.

During the period of January to September 2021, there have been 97 incidents reported with vessels boarded in 89% of global attacks. The report also found that ships were most vulnerable to attack at anchorage with 50 incidents reported. Bulk carriers were the most frequently attacked vessels, accounting for 34 cases.

The IMB warns against complacency, noting that 51 crew members were kidnapped, eight taken hostage, five threatened, three injured, two assaulted and one killed. They warn seafarers to remain vigilant as violence against crew members remains high in many areas of the world.

As for piracy hotspots – the Gulf of Guinea and Singapore Straits – the IMB reports a decrease in the former but notes worrying statistics about the latter.

The Gulf of Guinea recorded 28 incidents of piracy and armed robbery during this period, in comparison to 46 for the same period in 2020. Crew kidnappings in the region have dropped with only one crew member kidnapped in the region in Q3 2021 compared to 31 in 2020.

The IMB credits this overall reduction in piracy and armed robbery in the region to the enhanced maritime security response and coordination measures adopted by regional and national authorities. However, the IMB warns the threat to crew remains high and these efforts must be sustained, referring to the fatal incident that occurred in September in Gabon, where two crew members were injured and a third was reported missing presumed kidnapped.

'We welcome the decrease of piracy and armed robbery attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and the efforts taken by maritime authorities in the region,' said IMB director Michael Howlett. 'However, there needs to be sustained efforts to ensure the continued safety of seafarers as they transport essential goods throughout the region. Coastal States must redouble their coordination and security measures to ensure that piracy and armed robbery incidents continue to decline.'

In the Singapore Straits, there have been 20 reported incidents with two crew threatened, one assaulted and one injured. This is the highest number of incidents reported in the area since 1991. The attacks remain low-level and opportunistic in nature, but the IMB warns that the perpetrators pose a direct threat to seafarers and vessels underway.

A new area of concern raised in the IMB's report was Callao anchorage in Peru where 30% of crew members were directly affected in the 15 incidents that occurred in 2021. Like the Straits, this is the highest number reported since 1991. The attacks tend to be low-level thefts with knives being reported in 60% of incidents. According to the IMB, attackers possess the capacity to carry out violent attacks, with three crew taken hostage, one assaulted and one threatened during the first nine months of 2021.