Piracy and armed robbery at sea


Published: 10 December 2021

Credit to: Paullawat / Shutterstock.com

Although much emphasis has been on the severity of piracy activity in Gulf of Guinea, the Southeast Asian and Western Indian Ocean regions have been exposed to acts of piracy and armed robbery on vessels – demonstrating that such incidents are not restricted only to known "high risk area" regions.

The IMB piracy and armed robbery report of September 2021 (Q3) released the following statistics for the January to September 2021 period:

Ninety-seven vessels have reported incidents to the IMB PRC in the first nine months of 2021. Under the definitions of piracy and armed robbery at sea, 85 vessels were boarded, nine reported attempted attacks, two vessels were fired upon, and one vessel hijacked. In 25% of the reported incidents crew were directly impacted, with 51 crew reported kidnapped, eight taken hostage, five threatened, three injured, two assaulted and one killed.

Gulf of Guinea

28 incidents were reported within the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) region in the first nine months of 2021 – including the kidnapping of one crew member and 31 crew taken in five separate incidents. It is noticeable that all Q3 2021 incidents occurred at port anchorages whereas for Q3 2020 the average distance from shore of the successful kidnappings were 100 NM and with the furthest almost 200 NM out.

Waters off Somalia

There has been a sustained lull in reported piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia and the wider Indian Ocean leading to the shipping industry reducing the designated High Risk Area (HRA). However, on 16 October an Iranian warship prevented an attack by pirates against two oil tankers that it was escorting in the Gulf of Aden. This would make the 6th reported approach in the region within 2021.

The Americas

IMB's data reported incidents of armed robberies at ports in South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, which are typically linked to drug trafficking. There were also reported attacks on offshore support vessels operating in the southern rim of the Gulf of Mexico.

Callao anchorage in Peru continues to be an area of concern with 15 incidents reported in 2021, the highest number of reported incidents since 1991. Whilst also viewed as low level opportunistic thefts, knives were reported in 60% of the incidents. Three crewmembers were taken hostage and over 30% involved assaults and threats to the crewmembers. All vessel types are targeted.

Southeast Asia

  • Singapore Straits: 41 incidents were reported from vessels transiting the Singapore Straits since January 2021 to date – the highest number recorded since 1991. Although classified as low-level opportunistic thefts, the perpetrators continue to pose a direct risk to seafarers and vessels underway.
  • Indonesia: There was a noticeable reduction in the number of reported incidents in Indonesian waters with 10 low level reported incidents up to October 2021 compared to 23 incidents in 2020.
  • Philippines: 11 incidents have been reported from mainly container vessels boarded while anchored in Manila Bay, Philippines for the January to October 2021 period.

The ReCAAP ISC is concerned with the increasing number of incidents in the Singapore Strait. Since January 2021, there was a growing cluster of incidents off Tanjung Pergam, Bintan Island (25 incidents) and an increase of incidents off Nongsa, Batam Island (9 incidents). The ReCAAP ISC has issued seven Incident Alerts (latest alert 2 December 2021), warning the maritime community of the continued occurrence of incidents in the Singapore Strait and a possibility of further incidents. This includes 6 reported incidents occurring during 1 November to 1 December 2021, on board vessels underway in the Singapore Strait, of which five incidents occurred in the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) and one incident in the precautionary area. As the perpetrators are not arrested, there is a possibility of further incidents in the Singapore Strait.

Advisory to vessels – Masters should report

The ReCAAP ISC recently released an advisory highlighting their concerns of non-reporting of incidents of armed robbery against vessels to the nearest coastal State. In November 2021, there were two incidents of armed robbery on vessels at Batangas Anchorages (the Philippines), but the masters of both vessels did not report the incidents to the Philippine authorities despite requests from the authorities. Non-reporting of incidents by ships have occurred also in the waters of other coastal States.

The ReCAAP ISC reminds the masters of ships and shipowners/operators the importance of making immediate reporting of incidents to the nearest coastal States, in accordance with the IMO MSC.1 – Circular 1334 on 'Guidance to shipowners and ship operators, ship masters and crew on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships'. Paragraph 11 of the Circular states: "It is therefore recommended that in the event of an occurrence, master should report all actual or attempted attacks of piracy and armed robbery or threats thereof, to: (i) the nearest RCC or regional piracy focal point where applicable (e.g. ReCAAP ISC in the Asian region)."

The immediate reporting of incidents will enable the coastal States and regional authorities to activate its law enforcement agencies to respond to the incident. Timely reporting has previously led to the arrest of the perpetrators and enables the authorities to step up surveillance in the vicinity, which deters repeated activity/attacks in the area.

Fundamental best practices

Members are recommended to closely monitor potential risks through the websites of ReCAAP ISC and IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, as well as via the local agents and regional authorities.

A risk assessment should be conducted, and the relevant preventive measures adopted, following available industry guidelines, such as the following:

  1. Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia
  2. Global Counter Piracy Guidance for Companies, Masters and Seafarers
  3. Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Security in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea (BMP5)
  4. Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Security off the Coast of West Africa including the Gulf of Guinea (BMP West Africa)

Key regional reporting centres (VRA)

If the voyage includes the transit of a Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA), Members should register with the respective regional reporting centres when entering the VRA and submit daily ship position reports. The key regional reporting centres are:

Western Indian Ocean The Maritime Security Centre - Horn of Africa (MSCHOA)
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO)
West Africa The Marine Domain Awareness for Trade - Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GOG) Q6114
South-East Asia The Singapore Information Fusion Centre (IFC) of the Singaporean Navy (Note: The IFC does not serve as a regional reporting centre for immediate incident reporting. In Asia, all such reports should be made to the coastal state or nearest ReCAAP focal point.) Q6112