The Gulf of Guinea accounted for nearly half (43%) of all reported piracy incidents in the first three months of 2021, according to the latest figures from the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB). In addition, the region accounted for all forty kidnapped crew incidents, up from 22 last year, as well as the sole crew fatality.

On the whole, the number of piracy incidents decreased compared with the first three months of 2020: from 47 incidents to 38. In the first three months of 2021, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) reported 33 vessels boarded, two attempted attacks, two vessels fired upon, and one vessel hijacked.

Most attacks in 2021 so far involved bulk carriers (twelve incidents), followed by nine container ships and seven (different types of) tankers. Last year, tankers were the main target with 21 attacks, followed by eight container ships and seven bulk carriers.

Gulf of Guinea

The Gulf of Guinea continues to be particularly dangerous, with attacks taking place further offshore and the attacks being more violent. Often, the pirates are armed with guns.

‘Pirates operating within the Gulf of Guinea are well-equipped to attack further away from shorelines and are unafraid to take violent action against innocent crews,’ warns IMB Director Michael Howlett. ‘It’s critical that seafarers remain cautious and vigilant when travelling in nearby waters and report all incidents to the Regional Authorities and the IMB PRC. Only improved knowledge sharing channels and increased collaboration between maritime response authorities will reduce the risk to seafarers in the region.’

A recent example of a kidnapping incident in the Gulf of Guinea involved the Davide B. This tanker, sailing under a Maltese flag and chartered by the Dutch company De Poli Tankers, had fifteen of the 21 crew members kidnapped on 12 March while sailing to Lagos in Nigeria. It was attacked by nine armed pirates 210 nautical miles from shore. The Romanian, Filipino and Ukrainian crew were released last week and are doing well according to the shipping company.

Also read: ‘Never before did pirates kidnap so many crew in the Gulf of Guinea’

Gulf of Aden

Although Dutch merchant vessels will finally be allowed to take private security on board when sailing through the Gulf of Aden from January 2022, the necessity for this seems to be dwindling. During the first three months of 2021, only one incident was reported off Somalia. A bulk carrier reported a skiff with armed persons and a ladder approaching it while underway in the Gulf of Aden. The onboard armed security team fired warning shots resulting in the skiff moving away.

However, despite the decline of piracy incidents around Somalia and neighbouring waters, the IMB PRC encourages vessels to implement BMP5 recommended practices while transiting these waters as Somali pirates continue to possess the capacity to carry out attacks.

Asia and Americas

The Singapore Straits recorded six piracy incidents in Q1 2021 compared to five during the same period last year. Although these incidents are opportunistic in nature, the IMB PRC warns that the perpetrators were armed with knives in some cases and that seafarers should remain vigilant when travelling through the region.

The IMB reports that the information sharing cooperation between the Indonesian Marine Police and the IMB PRC continues to produce positive results. During the first three months of 2021, only two anchored vessels reported a pirate attack, in comparison to five in the same period last year.

There has been an uptick of reported piracy incidents in Callao Anchorage, Peru, with five incidents occurring in the first three months of 2021 compared to just three in Q1 2020. Meanwhile, container vessels are the target of attacks while underway or at anchor in Colombian waters. Perpetrators have been known to open containers and steal cargoes even while vessels are under pilotage, according to the IMB PRC.

Differences between regions

In Asia knives were used in six incidents, with no use of guns being reported. In Africa, knives were only used in one instance, whereas ten incidents reported pirates being armed with guns. Africa is also the only region in which ships reported to have been fired upon by pirates (two occurrences). The Americas reported one incident involving guns and three with knives.

In Asia, three ships were attacked while anchored. In Africa, six such incidents were reported, while this happened most in the Americas, with seven occurrences. Six ships were attacked while underway in Asia, three while sailing in the Americas and seven while sailing off Africa, with another four attempted attacks here.