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Global piracy drops in 2019 but spikes in kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea and armed robberies against ships in the Singapore Strait give cause for concern.

The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center (IMB PRC) recorded 162 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in 2019, compared to 201 for 2018. The figures are broken down as four vessels hijacked, 17 attempted attacks, 130 vessels boarded, and 11 vessels fired upon.

However, even if the 2019 numbers represent a year-on-year drop of almost 20% in global piracy, there is no time for complacency. Piracy in hot spots in West Africa and South-East Asia persist and 2019 saw a significant rise in kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea and armed robbery incidents in the Singapore Strait. Zero incidents were recorded in Somalia in 2019 but the threat of incidents still exist in the waters off the Southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, including Yemen.

West Africa

The Gulf of Guinea region experienced a reduction in the overall number of piracy and armed robbery incidents at sea in 2019. According to the IMB PRC, 64 incidents were reported in the region in 2019 compared to 82 in 2018. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Gulf of Guinea presents a serious and immediate threat to the safety and security of crews and vessels operating in the region. Its latest five-year statistics for the region, shown in the figure below, indicates a doubling of the total number of incidents since 2015 while the number of crew involved in kidnappings has increased six-fold over the same period. The region also accounted for all four vessel hijackings that occurred in 2019, as well as 10 out of 11 vessels that reported coming under fire.

IMB PRC urges seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea region to “remain vigilant and report all suspicious activity to regional response centres and the IMB”. It emphasises that early detection of an approaching suspicious craft is key to prevent boarding and allows time to raise the alarm and retreat into a citadel, if needed.

Ship operators and their masters must continue to exercise caution when operating in the Gulf of Guinea. They should carry out voyage specific threat and risk assessments prior to entering the region, review the Ship’s Security Plan and adopt relevant preventive measures, following the “Global Counter Piracy Guidance for Companies, Masters and Seafarers and the “Guidelines for Owners, Operators and Masters for protection against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea region.

For additional advice, see our alert “Gulf of Guinea – world's most dangerous piracy hotspot“ of 5 November 2019.


Asia on the other hand experienced a slight increase in the overall number of piracy and armed robbery incidents at sea during 2019. According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC), 82 incidents were reported in Asia in 2019, which is an 8% year-on-year increase compared to 2018. However, it is worth noting that this is still the second lowest number of incidents reported to ReCAAP ISC in the last 13 years.

The majority of incidents in Asia in 2019 were categorized as ‘armed robbery’ with medium to low significance and involving no physical harm to vessels’ crew. Of the 82 incidents reported, three occurred in China, five in India and the remaining 74 in South-East Asian countries, and ReCAAP ISC highlights the following areas of concern:

  • Sulu-Celebes Sea and eastern Sabah region: Two incidents of abduction of crew for ransom were reported in these waters in 2019. A total of 19 actual and 11 attempted incidents of abduction of crew from vessels while underway in the region have now been reported since March 2016 and despite the decrease in the number of incidents, the abduction of crew for ransom remains a serious threat in this area.
  • Bandar Penawar, Johor, Malaysia: Five incidents were reported in 2019 on board vessels anchored outside of the designated anchorage areas, while no incident was reported at the location in 2018.
  • Singapore Strait: A total of 31 piracy incidents were recorded in the Singapore Strait in 2019, compared to seven in 2018, and 12 of these incidents occurred in the Straits’s eastbound lane in a short period between 23 November and 30 December 2019. Unlike the incidents occuring in the westbound lane of the Singapore Strait last year, which primarily involved barges towed by tug boats, theft of tools and scrap metal and no reports of crew injuries, the incidents in the Strait’s eastbound lane involved bulk carriers and tankers, with reports of crew being confronted and threatened. In at least one of the incidents in the eastbound lane, crew also suffered minor injuries.

ReCAAP ISC urges ship masters and crew to exercise enhanced vigilance when transiting the areas of concern, maintain constant lookout for suspicious boats in the vicinity, report all incidents immediately to the nearest coastal State, and implement preventive measures recommended in the “Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia”.

As the risk of the abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah is high, the ReCAAP ISC also reiterates its advise to all vessels to reroute from the area, where possible. In July 2019, it also produced the “Guidance on Abduction of Crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and Waters off Eastern Sabah“ for shipping companies and ships to enhance their situational awareness and take appropriate countermeasures to avoid such incidents.

To provide insight into the incidents in the Singapore Strait, the modus operandi of the perpetrators and recommendations to the industry, ReCAAP ISC issued one Special Report and six Incident Alerts in 2019.

For additional advice, see our alerts “Piracy incidents rise in Singapore Strait“ of 6 January 2020 and “Crew abductions in South-East Asia“ of 1 October 2019.