There was a slight increase in the number of piracy incidents in 2023 versus 2022 according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center, but they point to several concerning trends within the statistics. After highlighting that piracy had fallen to 30-year lows, the IMB is now raising concerns for crew safety while singling out several hotspots that remain the primary areas of concern.
Five areas around the globe made up 70 percent of the 120 incidents recorded in 2023, which was up from 115 total reports received by the bureau in 2022. However, 67 of the reports in 2023 came from Southeast Asia, and specifically the Singapore Strait, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Both the IMB and ReCAAP, which focuses specifically on Asia, have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the Singapore Strait with IMB saying in its year-end analysis “The Singapore Straits remain an area of concern due to the high number of incidents.”
While the incidents in the Singapore Strait are mostly low-level opportunistic crimes, they involve boardings often with pirates armed with knives, and the theft of spare parts and equipment. IMB raises concern that 95 percent of the incidents were successful in the sense that the vessels were boarded. IMB raises an additional concern about late reporting and under-reporting by vessels which is required for a more accurate understanding of the risk in the area.
Equally concerning to the IMB is the first successful Somali-based hijacking since 2017, the December incident with the Navibulgar handymax bulk carrier Ruen, which remains under the control of pirates. They, however, also point to the hijacking of dhows noting the “potential use as mother ships for further attacks.”
The crew safety concerns are underscored by the increase in crewmembers taken hostage and kidnapped in 2023. The number of hostages they calculated increased to 73 from 41 the year earlier. Kidnappings numbered 14 in 2023 versus just two in 2022. A further 10 crew they report were threatened, four injured, and one assaulted in 2023. The report highlights that one crewmember was injured and required medical attention after a bulker was boarded in the Malacca Straits in October 2023. The previous incident in the area where a crewmember was injured by pirates was in 2015.
The Gulf of Guinea remains an area of concern. While the number of incidents remains down significantly from the peak in 2020, the IMB still notes that three of the four globally reported hijackings, all 14 crew kidnappings, 75 percent of reported crew hostages, and two injuries all took place in the area in 2023. Ghana also ranked as one of the five areas with the highest levels of reports.
South America and specifically the anchorage at Callao, Peru is also judged by the IMB as an area of looming threats. In the Callao anchorage, there were 14 incidents reported in 2023, including seven crew taken hostage and one assault. Guns and knives were used in nine of the incidents. In addition to Peru, they also cite incidents at the Macapa anchorage in Brazil and both Cartagena and Puerto Bolivar in Columbia.
IMB concludes there is cause for concern in 2023. They continue to call on masters and vessel owners to follow recommendations for safety protocols and to report incidents to ensure there is an accurate understanding of the dangers.