Global Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea 2017

Lydelle Joubert, Senior Maritime Piracy and Crime Analyst - Amahlo-Suritec

Today over a million seafarers, on more than 50,000 merchant ships, transport more than 80 percent of global cargo trade to ports all over the world. These seamen and ships run a gauntlet of threats to reach their destinations - threats such as terrorism, local conflict, and piracy.

Understanding piracy and armed robbery of vessels is essential in reducing violence at sea. Quantifying the economic and human costs of piracy is important in comprehending the true impact of piracy and robbery at sea.

The root cause of piracy is always related to conflict, political insecurity and the economic situation on land. For the most part, patterns in piracy are reoccurring, often dating back decades or even centuries.

In 2017 there was a slight reduction in incidents of piracy and robbery of vessels worldwide. This was reflected in most regions.

We have seen a downward trend in hijackings since 2014. In 2017 four hijackings were reported in Southeast Asia.

There were recurrences of hijackings off Somalia in the first half of 2017 with four fishing dhows and a bunker tanker hijacked. However the success rate of these hijackings in terms of ransom payments was low due to the interception of pirate groups on land by local authorities; the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMP4) by crews; as well as the successful capture of pirates by naval forces.

In 2017 there was a spike in kidnappings of crew of vessels off the Nigerian coast. Kidnapping of crew off Malaysia and the Philippines by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and associates also continued in 2017. These were characterized by the brutal killing of hostages when ransom demands were not met.  Military operations against the ASG in Sulu, Philippines, as well as trilateral maritime patrols have suppressed maritime kidnappings in this region. However the threat still remains.

The occurrence of piracy is often linked to the fishing industry. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing devastates this sector in several countries, which leads to financial strain. Unemployed fishermen are also often recruited into piracy. There is a high incidence of attacks on and kidnapping of fishermen in areas such as Bangladesh and the Gulf of Guinea. These attacks often spill over to commercial vessels.

Naval forces and onboard security teams play a crucial role in the curbing of piracy. Piracy can be offset by security measures, but in the long run, denying safe havens to pirates by building capability of local security forces on land, as well as local support for these programs and the successful prosecuting of pirates are essential in defeating piracy.