The annual Piracy and Armed Robbery Report of the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) raises concern over the first successful Somali based hijacking since 2017. Both the number of maritime piracy and armed robbery incidents and the number of crew kidnappings increased compared to 2022.

The report recorded a rise in incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery from 115 in 2022 to 120 in 2023. 105 vessels were boarded, there were nine attempted attacks, four vessels hijacked and two fired upon.

Where the number of 2023 reported incidents has slightly increased compared to 2022, the IMB urges caution for crew safety as the number of crew taken hostage and kidnapped increased from 41 to 73 and from two to 14 in 2022 and 2023 respectively. A further 10 crew were threatened, four injured and one assaulted in 2023.

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First hijacking off Somalia since 2017

On 14 December 2023, the report recorded the first successful hijacking of a vessel off the coast of Somalia since 2017.

A handymax bulk carrier was boarded and hijacked by alleged Somali pirates. The incident took place around 700 nautical miles (nm) East of Bosaso in Somalia. Reports also suggest two dhows were subsequently hijacked, a type of vessel with potential use as mother ships for further attacks.

‘This is a cause for concern and the IMB is once again calling for all masters and vessel owners to continue following the recommendations and reporting procedures as per the latest version of the Best Management Practices,’ says IMB Director Michael Howlett, adding that the incident demonstrates the continued capabilities of the Somali pirates.

Three of four hijackings in Gulf of Guinea

Despite the continued restraint in the number of reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, with 22 in 2023 compared to 19 in 2022, 35 in 2021 and 81 in 2020, these waters accounted for three of the four globally reported hijackings, all fourteen crew kidnappings, and 75 per cent of reported crew hostages and two injured crew in 2023 – continuing to be dangerous waters for seafarers.

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Singapore Straits, Malacca Straits and Indonesian archipelago

The Singapore Straits remain an area of concern due to the high number of incidents. While considered low level opportunistic crimes, 95 per cent of reported incidents were successful, with 37 reported incidents overall in 2023 compared to 38 in 2022. Crew continue to be harmed with nine taken hostage and two threatened. Guns were reported in three recorded incidents and knives in fifteen.

Howlett adds: ‘We are concerned due to the late reporting and under reporting by vessels. The IMB continues to encourage timely reporting of all incidents, as it contributes to a more accurate understanding of risk.’

One crew member was injured and required medical attention after a bulk carrier was boarded in the Malacca Straits in October 2023. The last reported incident of crew injured by pirates in the area was in 2015.

A year-on-year increase in reported incidents has been observed in the Indonesian archipelago, up from 10 in 2022 to 18 in 2023. Weapons were reported in fifty per cent of the incidents. Seven crew were threatened and two taken hostage in 2023.

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Looming threats in South America

Fourteen incidents were reported from vessels at Callao anchorage in Peru. Seven crew were taken hostage and one each assaulted and threatened. Guns and knives were reported in nine incidents. Other ports affected in South America were Macapa anchorage in Brazil, and Cartagena and Puerto Bolivar anchorages in Colombia.

The 2023 Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships report can be requested here.

Also read: IMB: Piracy on the rise again, regional efforts needed