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Piracy down, but need for vigilance remains

Global piracy incidents reported to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre’s might have dropped for the second year in a row, but hot spots for violent attacks against ships and crews remain.

The IMB PRC’s latest annual report noted 115 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in 2022, compared with 132 reports in 2021. The total incidents break down into 107 ships boarded, five attempted attacks, two vessels highjacked and one fired upon.

But the drop is marred by an increase in the number of robbery incidents in the Singapore Strait, which reached a seven-year high in 2022. Additionally, ships continue to be attacked in South American ports, with worryingly violent tendencies.

“Though the downward trend in reported incidents is welcomed, the risk to crew remains with 41 crew taken hostage, six each assaulted and threatened and two kidnapped,” said the IMB PRC.

The overall decrease stems from a reduction in piracy in the waters of the Gulf of Guinea and at Callao Anchorage in Peru. But that is countered by an increase in armed robberies against vessels in the Singapore Strait. Figures from the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) reveal a 2% overall increase in total incidents in Asia in 2022 compared with the previous year, according to insurer Gard.

The number of incidents reported from the Gulf of Guinea region dropped from 35 in 2021 to 19 in 2022, and crew kidnappings were also down from 57 to two. However, the threat has not been eliminated.

“The fact that two vessels were hijacked in 2022, with 29 crew held hostage, and another vessel was fired upon while steaming, demonstrates that the threat to innocent seafarers remains in these waters,” said insurer Gard in a review of the statistics.

Ghana and Angola threat

In West Africa, Ghana and Angola have passed Nigeria with the number of reported piracy incidents in their waters, with two-thirds of incidents taking place while ships were anchored or berthed. The IMB PRC flagged both Takoradi Anchorage, Ghana, and Luanda Anchorage, Angola, as “ports and anchorages with three or more reported incidents in 2022”.

Gard noted that while the Indian Ocean High Risk Area (HRA) was removed in January 2023 after several years without any Somali pirate attacks, Somali pirates are still a concern. “While the direct threat of attacks from Somali based pirates appears to have decreased, the IMB PRC continues to encourage Masters to be vigilant, especially if transiting close to the Somali coast,” added the IMB.

Meanwhile, ReCAAP ISC recorded 84 incidents in Asia in 2022, up from 82 in 2021, Gard reported. The majority were classed as armed robbery/petty theft.

The Singapore Strait was highlighted by the IMB with an increasing number of reported incidents, up from 35 in 2021 to 38 in 2022. Vessels were successfully board in all 38 incidents.

“Whilst the incidents were reported predominantly as low-level opportunistic thefts, with little physical injuries to crews, it is not uncommon for the perpetrators to be armed with knives and other weapon-like objects that are used to threaten the crew. In one of the incidents reported in 2022, a crew member sustained a serious injury to his foot after being shot by one of the perpetrators boarding his ship,” said Gard.

The insurer warned that the upward trend in the Singapore Strait has continued into 2023 with 10 incidents reported from ships underway in the Singapore Strait between January 1 and February 20, 2023, according to ReCAAP ISC statistics.

Callao improvement

Elsewhere, the 33% improvement in reported incidents for Peru’s Callao anchorage in 2022 nodded to a lower threat level in the Americas region. In total 24 piracy and armed robbery incidents were recorded for the South and Central America and Caribbean region in 2022, down from 36 in 2021. However, violence is also of growing concern in this region. “Ports in the South and Central America and the Caribbean, and particularly the Callao Anchorage, Peru and Macapa Anchorage, Brazil, continue to be affected by the crime of armed robbery and the perpetrators tend to be armed and violent,” said Gard. According to the IMB PRC, seven crew were taken hostage and six assaulted and threatened, making this region “quite a risk for crew”, said the IMB. Risk levels increase at night with vessels targeted at anchor during hours of darkness.

Overall, Gard advises that those at sea “stay alert”. The level of threat from piracy and armed robbery at sea, as well as the opportunity for and modus operandi of the perpetrators, differs from one region to another and may also change quickly, the insurer said. “Prior to entering any piracy prone area, it is important to obtain updated information from local sources and security experts, review the ship security plan in light of the information received, conduct a voyage specific risk assessment, brief and train the crew and prepare and test the ship’s emergency communication plans.

“Relevant preventive measures must be adopted, following available industry guidance and best management practices. The potential consequences of not following industry best practices may be severe when transiting areas prone to piracy.”

The insurer also points out that as ships appear to be particularly vulnerable when at anchor, ship masters and crew should exercise extra vigilance when staying at high-risk ports/anchorages. “Remember that a proper lookout is considered one of the most effective methods of ship protection. It can help identify a suspicious approach or attack at an early stage, allowing defences to be deployed,” Gard said.
Source: Baltic Exchange

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