Maritime piracy and armed robbery dropped by 24% in the first nine months of 2019 compared to a similar timeframe last year but Africa's Gulf of Guinea remains a "high risk area," the International Chamber of Commerce said on Tuesday.
The Gulf of Guinea accounted for 86% of crew members taken hostage and nearly 82% of crew members kidnapped globally, according to the Paris-based international organization.
There were 119 incidents — 95 vessels boarded, 10 vessels fired on, 10 attempted attacks and four vessels hijacked — reported so far this year to ICC's International Maritime Bureau. That is down from the 156 incidents reported in the first nine months of 2018.
The number of crew members taken hostage declined by 56% year-on-year — down to 49 such incidents through the first nine months of 2019, compared with 112 in 2018, ICC said.
But the 24 knife-related and 35 gun-related incidents reported in 2019 were roughly consistent with the 25 knife-related and 37 gun-related incidents for the first nine months of 2018.
"These statistics confirm IMB’s concerns over continued threats to the safety and security of seafarers," ICC, the world’s largest business organization representing 45 million companies in more than 100 countries, in a statement.
International Chamber of Commerce
International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau
Gulf crime poses 'major threat'
The international organization emphasized the continuing maritime dangers that ships face off West Africa's 6,000 kilometers of coastline from Angola to Senegal, and particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, a focal point for oil shipping from the Niger delta and for goods shipped to and from central and southern Africa.
The Gulf of Guinea — extending off the coasts of Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Guinea and Gabon — remains "a high risk area for piracy and armed robbery," ICC said.
All types of ships are vulnerable to attack, said ICC's International Maritime Bureau.
In July, a general cargo vessel was hijacked and 10 of its crew members kidnapped and released four weeks later near Nigeria's port town of Brass. In August, a bulk carrier and a general cargo vessel were boarded hours apart and 17 crew members kidnapped and released six weeks later at Cameroon's coastal city Douala.
Other international organizations were in general agreement with that assessment.
"Piracy, armed robbery at sea, illegal fishing, smuggling and trafficking, pose a major threat to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and ultimately to the economic development of the entire region," said the European Union's maritime security initiative.
Nigeria reported the most piracy attacks of any nation this year, including 11 in Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, the most of any port in the world. Despite that, Nigeria lowered it overall piracy incidents. The Nigerian Navy's stepped-up patrols led to a 24% drop in such incidents, down to 29 in the first nine months of 2019 from 41 in the same period of 2018.
“Although incidents are down, the Gulf of Guinea continues to be a concern for piracy and armed robbery-related activities with kidnappings of crew members increasing in both scale and frequency,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director of ICC's International Maritime Bureau.
“It is important that shipmasters and owners continue to report all actual, attempted, and suspected incidents," he said, "to ensure that an accurate picture of these attacks emerge and action is taken against these criminals before the incidents further escalate.”
Remarkably, no piracy incidents were recorded for the first nine months of 2019 in lawless Somalia, though ICC advised ships to remain vigilant there because "Somali pirates continue to possess the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean."