Piracy and Robbery Against Ships in Latin America & the Caribbean 2016

Main Messages:

  • Theft from vessels at anchorage poses a problem for the region.
  • The waterways of South America are large, complex, and difficult to govern.
  • Yachters, in response to recent incidents, have begun coordinating with one another in an attempt to increase safety and awareness.


Total Attacks Piracy Latin America
Total Seafarers Affected Latin America
Total Cost Piracy Latin Amirica

Latin America & the Caribbean Overview

In response to a number of documented violent incidents, Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) has expanded its State of Piracy analysis to include incidents of piracy and armed robbery in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean in 2016.

Recent attacks on passenger vessels traversing inland waterways have affected crews and passengers alike, and the number of attacks on yachts at anchorage and in open water is concerning. This region presents a unique set of challenges because of the frequency of attacks on yachts rather than the mostly merchant vessels observed in other regions.

As 2016 is the first year OBP has included the region in its global analysis, it is too early to discern trends from year to year or determine particular vessel vulnerabilities. However, the level of violent criminal activity observed in 2016 certainly warrants more attention from the international community.

Mapping of Attacks in Latin America and the Caribbean

Mapping of Attacks in Latin America and Caribbean

Incident Types


Suspicious Activity

Incidents of suspicious activity include cases where a vessel reports a close encounter or direct approach from another vessel that feels threatening in nature. The perceived threat is determined by the vessel master based upon the actions of the approaching vessel or from the observation of weapons or equipment that can be used to board a vessel. However, the approaching vessel may not have actually taken any overtly hostile action.



Incident Breakdown

In 2016, OBP recorded 27 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. OBP recorded eight failed attacks, one case of suspicious activity, and one instance of kidnapping. However, of most concern are the 12 successful armed robberies and the five successful robberies recorded in 2016.

While 2016 is the first year for which OBP has included an overview of this region, other organizations such as the Caribbean Safety and Security Net have noted an increase in attacks in recent years, specifically on yachts. 1 The group said that incidents often go unreported in the Caribbean “for reasons of privacy, embarrassment, or fears of economic repercussions,” 2 a situation which is similar to that in other areas of the world where underreporting is common. Having observed the increasing risk in the region, the yachting community has organized a grassroots information-sharing network using social media to raise awareness about incidents and threats. 3

Total Incidents by Type

Latin America Attacks by Type

Suspicious Activity

The one instance of suspicious activity recorded by OBP in 2016 occurred roughly five miles east of a Royal Dutch Shell owned oil and gas platform near Trinidad and Tobago. According to reports, a sailing yacht was approached multiple times by a pirogue with several individuals on board who were yelling about fuel. One of the men allegedly had a gun holstered in his waistband, which led the sailing yacht to engage in evasive maneuvers while two of its crew members posed as if armed. The captain also made visible his attempt to contact the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard over VHF. Luckily, after approximately 15 minutes the pirogue aborted and began heading west. 4



There was one kidnapping incident in 2016, which involved an attack on a couple on a yacht near Grenada. Two men—one with a gun—boarded the yacht, kidnapped the couple, and attempted to commandeer the vessel to travel to Puerto Rico. During the attack, the yacht became grounded on a reef, and the attackers took the woman to shore. When the kidnappers returned, the yachter was receiving assistance from other yachters, which deterred the attackers. The woman was released, the attackers fled, and the Grenada Coast Guard responded to the scene. This attack represents an outlier and is not indicative of any trend. 5


Targeted Vessels

In 2016, yachts were the type of vessel most likely to have been involved in successful attacks. Passenger vessels and tankers were attacked four times each, and general cargo ships were attacked two times. Bulk carriers, fishing vessels, offshore supply vessels, and fuel ships were each attacked once.

Incidents by Vessel Type

Latin America Targeted Vessels


Incidents by Location

In the South America, Central America, and Caribbean region, OBP observed incidents which occurred at anchorage, at sea, and in riverine areas.

Total Incidents by Location

Latin America Incidents by Location


At Sea

While incidents involving vessels at sea are relatively uncommon in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, the incidents that did occur in 2016 demonstrate the capability of regional perpetrators to confront vessels either when they are steaming or at anchor in open water. OBP recorded four piracy and armed robbery-related incidents at sea in 2016: two failed attacks/failed robberies, one case of suspicious activity, and one successful armed robbery.

At Anchorage

The most common form of robbery in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean in 2016 was theft from vessels at anchorage. Of the 27 incidents recorded in the region, 17 occurred at anchorage. Of those, 10 incidents were successful, six incidents were failed attacks/failed boardings, and one incident was classified as a kidnapping. OBP’s assessment is that the perpetrators involved in the six failed attacks/failed boardings were targeting ship stores and crew valuables.


Riverine Areas

In South America, armed robberies targeting passenger vessels traversing inland waterways occurred with relative frequency. OBP recorded four such attacks in 2016. In one case popularized by the New York Times, masked men boarded a passenger boat traveling near the city of Belém, Brazil, and robbed 260 passengers of their valuables. 6 In another case, the river cruise vessel Amazon Discovery was attacked by eight armed men who robbed the passengers of roughly $26,000 worth of personal belongings and cash. 7 Out of the four instances of armed robbery involving passenger vessels, three occurred in Brazil and one in Peru.

Besides attacks against passenger vessels, two other incidents occurred in riverine areas in 2016. On 12 May, a vessel was successfully boarded and robbed on the Chagres River in Panama, and on 1 October, perpetrators armed with rifles robbed a fuel ship on the Solimões River in Brazil. In total, OBP recorded six riverine attacks during 2016, all of which were successful. OBP estimates that passenger vessels pose a highly desirable target to would-be perpetrators: a vessel carrying a large number of passengers promises a higher payout, and the vast and complex waterways they transit provide some cover for thieves. Because of the challenge of navigating the complex waterways in the region, law enforcement response time is generally slow, allowing perpetrators a generous amount of time for escape.

They were shouting 'Give me money and everything!' and said they will shoot the passengers if they didn't get it fast. I tried to reason with them, but then, pow, one of them hit me with his pistol. I knew if we tried to fight back we would be sure to lose and there could be fatalities…so I started pleading with them to spare the passengers, and hoped that they have a heart. I had to step between them, and begged them not to do anything, and pow, again, I was hit. I told them they were here for the money and hurting the passengers won't achieve anything.

From the Tour Guide of Amazon Discovery Excerpted from “Amazon Guide Begs River Pirates to Spare the Lives of Kiwis on Peru Amazon Cruise,” New Zealand Herald


Human Cost Latin America & the Caribbean

In total, Latin America and the Caribbean saw 527 seafarers aboard vessels subjected to incidents in 2016. The majority of those seafarers were exposed to incidents involving armed robbery.

Seafarers Affected by Incident Type

Seafarers Piracy Incidents Latin America


Of the incidents reported in 2016, 22% involved injuries to seafarers, 11% of incidents involved threats to the crew, and 7% of incidents involved seafarer fatality. In one deadly incident, two armed men boarded a yacht in the Caribbean near Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and fatally wounded a German sailor; the captain suffered nonfatal injuries. The attackers proceeded to steal cash and credit cards from the yachters. 8 In a similar incident off the coast of St. Croix, a yachter was shot and stabbed during a robbery by attackers who demanded money. 9Although these incidents were outliers with regard to the level of violence involved, it shows that attackers in the region are capable of robbing the ship, passengers, and crew of valuables with little regard for human life.


Injuries and Deaths

Violence Type Number of Seafarers Affected
Killed 2
Injury 7
Threatened 286



Perpetrators were armed in 48% of the attacks, or 13 incidents. Approximately 376 seafarers were involved in an incident in which the perpetrators were armed, and 279 were directly threatened. Of the 13 incidents involving armed attackers, 12 were robberies and one was a failed attack.

Armed vs Unarmed Incidents

Armed vs Unarmed Incidents Latin America


For the 27 incidents recorded by OBP in 2016, the nationalities of 95 of the 139 known seafarers involved in incidents reported to the IMB are known; the nationalities of the remaining 44 have not been verified. The five nations whose seafarers were most frequently on vessels attacked were the Philippines ( 37%), India (24%), Myanmar (21%), Denmark (10%), and Mexico (8%).

Nationality of Seafarers Exposed to Incidents

Nationality of Seafarers Exposed to Incidents Latin America



Economic Cost Latin America & the Caribbean

OBP did not aggregate a total cost of piracy and armed robbery in Latin America due to the difficulty isolating and attributing changes in behavior to piracy and armed robbery in the region. For instance, OBP did not find any evidence that ships are avoiding parts of the region due to piracy or armed robbery, nor is OBP aware of any increased law enforcement activity as a result of the incidents.

Stolen Ship Stores and Crew/Passenger Belongings

The theft of ship stores and equipment imposes a financial loss on ship owners, whereas the theft of crew and passenger belongings directly impacts seafarers. Stolen belongings may hold sentimental value, or in the case of laptops and cellphones, may serve a more practical purpose. In total, crew belongings were taken from a vessel on 11 occasions during 2016, representing losses between $77,656 and $150,624. Ship stores and equipment were stolen eight times and accounted for an estimated $82,500 to $288,750 in losses. There was also one case of cargo theft in the region; the 1 October incident in which 2,600 gallons of diesel fuel were taken along with the crew’s personal property. Overall, OBP estimates that the value of stolen goods in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean represented between $162,632 and $441,850 in losses.


Cost of Stolen Goods

Item Stolen Cost Estimate (Low) Cost Estimate (High)
Ship Stores and Equipment $82,500 $288,750
Crew Belongings $77,656 $150,624
Cargo $2,476 $2,476
Total $162,632 $441,850