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West African coast is third hotspot for shipping losses

THE Gulf of Guinea has re-emerged as the global piracy hotspot accounting for 90 percent of global kidnappings reported at sea in 2019 with the number of crew taken increasing by more than 50 percent to 121, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

‘Given heightened political and economic uncertainty in the world today, piracy is a threat that is likely to remain for the foreseeable future,’ says the IMB.

Piracy remains a major risk for shipping. In 2019, there were 162 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide, down from 201 in 2018. This is despite the recent success in tackling Somali pirates. Somalia reported zero piracy incidents in 2019, a trend that continued through the beginning of 2020. However, Somali pirates continue to possess the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean.

‘Piracy remains an ongoing issue. We thought we had a handle on it but it has manifested yet again,’ says Captain Rahul Khanna, Global Head of Marine Risk Consulting at AGCS. ‘Hijackings by Somalian pirates may have reduced for now, but incidents have been increasing in West Africa and parts of Asia, where we see a worrying pattern of violent attacks against crew, as well as kidnappings.’

Following an active 2019, there has been no let-up in piracy in 2020. There were 47 attacks reported to the IMB in the first three months of the year, up from 38 in the same period last year, mostly targeting tankers, as well as container ships and bulk carriers. Again, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for the highest number of attacks (21) although there were also (five) vessels boarded in the Singapore Strait and several incidents of armed robbery in Latin America.

In April 2020, the Portugal-flagged container ship Tommi Ritscher became the latest vessel attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. While at the Cotonou Anchorage, Benin, the 4,785 teu Singapore-owned vessel was boarded by pirates and eight crew were kidnapped. The incident followed the kidnapping of nine crew from the tanker Alpine Penelope in the same area in February 2020.

‘Piracy is typically local in nature but it can have a global geopolitical impact,’ says Captain Andrew Kinsey, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at AGCS. ‘It has proved to be an easy business model, especially in parts of the world where governments are dysfunctional or where there is little rule of law. There is a strong connection between piracy and unstable governments, which provides opportunities for pirates to carry out attacks where the state is not strong enough to properly police its coastal waters.’

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