Violent attacks against ships and their crews have risen in 2020, with 77 seafarers taken hostage or kidnapped for ransom since January, reveals the ICC International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) 2020 second quarter piracy report.
According to the report, Gulf of Guinea off West Africa has becomes increasingly dangerous for commercial shipping, and it accounted for over 90 percent of maritime kidnappings worldwide.
IMB report further revealed that 98 incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea were recorded in the first half of 2020, up from 78 in the second quarter of 2019.
This, it stated, has increased the hardships already faced by hundreds of thousands of seafarers working beyond their contractual periods due to COVID-19 restrictions on crew rotations and international travel.
“Violence against crews is a growing risk in a workforce already under immense pressure,” Michael Howlett, IMB Director said.
In the Gulf of Guinea, he said, attackers armed with knives and guns now target crews on every type of vessel, making everyone vulnerable.
“We need to change the risk-to-reward ratio for pirates operating within the Gulf of Guinea. Without an appropriate and proportionate deterrent, pirates and robbers will get more ruthless and more ambitious, increasing the risk to seafarers,” Howlett noted.
IMB stated that about 49 crew have been kidnapped for ransom in the Gulf of Guinea and held captive on land for up to six weeks.
“Rates are accelerating, with 32 crew kidnapped in the past three months alone. And they are happening further out to sea: two-thirds of the vessels were attacked on the high seas from around 20 to 130 nautical miles off the Gulf of Guinea coastline,” the report stated.
IMB however urged vessels to report any attacks promptly. It can then liaise with coastal agencies, international navies and vessel operators, encouraging a quick response to deter piracy and armed robbery and improve the security of seafarers.
In one recent case commended by IMB, the Nigerian Navy responded promptly to a distress call from a fishing vessel boarded and hijacked by armed assailants in Ivory Coast waters.
As a result, crews were saved and the ship was prevented from being used as a possible mother vessel to carry out further attacks.
In another incident, a product tanker was attacked while underway around 127 nautical mile off Bayelsa, Nigeria. Eight armed pirates kidnapped ten crew as well as stealing cash, personal valuables, and ship’s property.