Piracy And Armed Robbery Against Ships In West Africa 2017

Main Messages:

  • The number of piracy incidents in 2017 stayed at essentially the same elevated level as in 2016.
  • There were more successful kidnappings in 2017 than in 2016, with more seafarers being held captive for longer than one day (90 seafarers versus 56 in 2016.)
  • Overall, the waters of the Gulf of Guinea remain a dangerous hotbed of pirate activity.


2017 saw an increase in incidents of armed robbery in the region from 2016. Although the numbers of seafarers affected were slightly down, there were three more successful kidnappings in 2017 than in 2016. One hundred seafarers were taken hostage, 90 of whom were held for longer than one day and at least two of whom were killed, representing a significant increase in the level of violence.

2016's geographic patterns were seen again in 2017, with the overwhelming majority of attacks happening off the Niger Delta. No attacks were recorded south of the Equator. In what may be a new trend, a series of attacks took place on anchored ships in ports along the western coast of Africa, from Sierra Leone to Cape Verde.

Regional navies continued to enhance their enforcement capabilities through the acquisition of new naval assets, more multinational exercises, and further development of the Yaoundé Process-based information sharing architecture. This is reflected in an increase in the patrol days recorded for regional navies and a 27 percent increased rate of responses to attack incidents by maritime enforcement agencies. In only one incident did naval forces arrive on the scene in time to prevent the attackers from getting away with hostages or goods. This was also the only incident to result in the arrest of attackers in 2017.  Alleged pirates arrested in connection with 2016's MT Maximus incident were arraigned in November of 2017. However, without a specific piracy law on Nigeria's books, charges were limited to related charges, demonstrating that legal frameworks must still be strengthened to support the legal finish.

Mapping of Attacks in West Africa

Total Attacks Piracy West Africa




total piracy incidents in West Africa 2017
total piracy by robbery 2017 West Africa
Piracy robbery by location West Africa


Piracy by Vessel Type 2017 East Africa
Piracy Robbery by Vessel 2017



Human Cost West Africa

The number of seafarers affected by piracy and armed robbery in 2017 decreased slightly from 2016. In total, 1,726 seafarers were affected by piracy and armed robbery in 2017 in West African waters, compared to 1,921 in 2016.


Seafarers Exposed to Piracy 2015 - 2017
Piracy Incident Type 2017
Seafarers Exposed to Violence by Pirates 2017
Piracy incidents and Weapons

West Africa: Crew Held Hostage

  • 100 Seafarers taken hostage (including riverine incidents)
  • Hostages kept for one day or less: 10
  • Hostages held for more than one day and confirmed as released: 48 (Duration of captivity in these instances ranged from seven to 26 days)
  • Hostages not confirmed as released: 42 – As of this writing, of the total of 100 seafarers held hostage in 2017, the release of 42 seafarers has yet to be confirmed.

West Africa: Seafarers Known Nationalities

This graphic represents the known nationalities of 463 1 of the 702 total seafarers confirmed as exposed to piracy and armed robbery at sea in 2017. The nationalities of the other 239 are unverified.

nationalities exposed to Piracy 2017




West Africa: Total Economic Cost in 2017

West Africa Piracy Coast TextWest Africa Economic Cost Piracy Chart


West Africa: Cost of Naval Activities 2

Naval Activity Cost Breakdown

Regional Naval Activities $33,033,003
International Naval Activities $34,932,402
Total Cost $67,965,405


West Africa: Cost of Contracted Security 3  4

Contracted Security Cost Breakdown

Type of Security Cost
Coastal State Embarked Personnel $213,728,969
State Affiliated Escorts $9,360,0008
Private Patrols $134,907,892
West Africa Secure Zones $9,339,000
Total Cost $367,335,861

Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria have each established “secure zones” near major ports. These are clearly demarcated areas where ships can safely anchor to wait for a berth or conduct ship-to-ship (STS) cargo transfers. In Nigeria, private companies provide the ships, maintenance, logistics, and perform all scheduling and billing of clients. The armed forces supply the security personnel and weaponry. In Ghana, the Ports & Harbour Authority is responsible for providing security patrols. In Benin and Togo, the navies are responsible for patrols. OBP estimates that operating these zones cost $9.3 million in 2017.


West Africa Secure Zone Cost Breakdown

Country Zone Annual Visits Cost per Visit Annual Cost
Nigeria Secure Anchorage Area 636 $10,500 $6,678,000
  STS Zone 887 $3,000 $2,661,000
Benin Secure Zones 792 N/A N/A
Togo Secure Zones 2,265 N/A N/A
Ghana STS Zone and Anchorage Area 3,077 N/A N/A
Total   7,657   $9,339,000
The Case of Port of Cotonou

In the 2016 State of Piracy report, OBP highlighted the trend for at-anchor robberies off major ports. That trend continued in 2017 and expanded along the length of the West African coast, with incidents in Freetown, Conakry, and Praia. However, there have recently been a new series at-anchor attacks. On three separate occasions in the first two months of 2018, ships in the Cotonou Secure Anchorage area were violently attacked within sight of the port captain's tower and in an area patrolled by the Benin Navy. Two of the targeted vessels disappeared, in one case for a full week, before owners could make arrangements for their release. In the third case, a firefight between attackers and embarked Benin Navy security personnel ensued, in which two Beninese sailors were wounded.

Over the past few years, Port of Cotonou has grown significantly because of several factors, including overall growth in African maritime trade and the perceived danger of sailing in Nigerian waters. In 2017, Cotonou handled 30 percent more cargo than in 2012 and twice as much than in 2007. As port traffic has increased, ships are spending longer at anchor waiting for a berth, making them more vulnerable to attack. These recent attacks show that pirates are following the merchant traffic and moving their operations to where easy targets can be found.

West Africa: Cost of Info Sharing and Coordination Centers

OBP estimates the cost of information sharing and coordination centers in West Africa to be $2,928,105. The following centers were included in our calculation:

West Africa: Cost of Ship Protection Measures

Active security measures, such as embarked contracted security teams and use of patrol ships, are only available within territorial waters or in designated areas. They are intended to supplement other ship protection measures. Each ship operator is responsible for conducting a ship-specific risk assessment to determine the appropriate SPMs.

Expenditures are primarily limited to refitting worn or damaged kits and equipping ships new to the region. OBP estimates the cost of SPMs to be $3,974,576.00.


West Africa: Cost of Counter-Piracy Organizations

Cost of Counter-Piracy Organizations Breakdown

Counter-piracy Organization Cost
EU Maritime Transport Support $1,878,801
EU Gulf of Guinea Inter-regional Network (GOGIN) $2,620,929
OBP West Africa $161,392
INTERPOL West Africa Police Information System (WAPIS) $2,818,203
NIMASA $217,800,000
Total Cost $225,279,325


West Africa: Cost of Stolen Goods

Cost of Stolen Goods Breakdown

Item Stolen Cost
Ship Stores and Equipment $270,000
Personal Effects $142,675
Total Cost $412,675


West Africa: Cost of Labor

As a result of increased personal risk due to the threat of piracy and armed robbery, several collective bargaining agreements developed through the International Bargaining Forum (IBF), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and various national seafarers’ unions have identified areas within which seafarers are entitled to additional pay. According to OBP, seafarers transiting the IBF’s Gulf of Guinea High Risk Area (HRA) in 2017 were entitled to $111 million in additional pay, compared to $114 million in 2016.

In the event that seafarers are kidnapped and held hostage, seafarers are entitled to captivity pay. This pay is estimated using the Maritime Labour Convention’s minimum wage of $23 per day. In 2017, the 100 seafarers affected by kidnapping in the Gulf of Guinea were held between two and three weeks. They were entitled to $40,000 in captivity pay as a result. However, it is impossible to track whether the money seafarers were entitled to was actually paid.


Cost of Labor Breakdown

Type of Expense Cost for 2016 Cost for 2017
IBF HRA $114 million $111 million
Captivity Pay $57,000 $40,000


West Africa: Cost of Insurance


Assuming that the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 15 percent of all War Risk Area 5 Premiums in 2017, and that the change in net premiums was negative five percent, the total cost of additional premiums incurred by ships transiting the Gulf of Guinea Listed Area in 2017 was $18.5 million. 6

In addition to war risk insurance premiums, a number of ship operators take out K&R insurance as additional protection for their ship’s crew. OBP estimates that in 2017 approximately 35 percent of all ships transiting the Gulf of Guinea Listed Area carried this insurance, at a cost totaling $20.7 million.

The threat of piracy may lead to increased cargo insurance premiums. While a comprehensive estimate of the piracy-related costs is impossible, it can be determined whether the costs associated with this type of insurance were higher or lower than in the previous year based on the risk score assigned to the region by the Joint Cargo Committee (JCC) Cargo Watchlist. In 2017, the risk score for the Gulf of Guinea remained classified as “high” and Nigeria continued to have the highest risk score of all littoral states. Overall, the JCC Cargo Watchlist risk scores for the Gulf of Guinea remained in the same range as last year, indicating no major change in the cost of insurance.


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  • 1. Crew nationalities were not specified in each reported incident. This number, therefore, only includes incidents where nationalities and number of seafarers are known.
  • 2. The cost of Regional Naval Activities is an average based on an estimated cost range of $30,842,377 to $35,223,628
  • 3. State affiliated escorts: Several companies operate escort ships in cooperation with the Nigerian Navy. In general, the escort ships are owned and operated by a private company, but the Nigerian Navy provides a portion of the operational crew. The Nigeria emphasizes that their naval detachment is solely responsible for the handling of weapons and operational command.
  • 4. The cost of Private Patrols is an average based on an estimated cost range of $125,961,303 to $143,854,482
  • 5. The War Risk Area is defined by the Joint War Committee. More detail about the listed areas can be found at http://www.lmalloyds.com/lma/jointwar
  • 6. An average based on an estimated range of $17million to $20 million.