By: Kyle Brossard, Analyst, Transnational Issues Section
Analytical Question: Is the war against maritime piracy being won?
The 2018 maritime piracy report, which was recently released to the public, gives a detailed report on piracy incidents that happened in the past year. The data in the report points to a rise in piracy in some areas with a drop in others, but it is still too early to state with confidence if the war against maritime piracy is being won overall.
On January 16, 2019, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) released the 2018 International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy report. The report provides detailed records of all reported piracy attempts, whether they resulted in a hijacking of a vessel or not. The report helps identify trends and high-risk areas from data identified in the past year. In the past, the areas with the majority of attacks were in the Indian Ocean, specifically off the coast of Somalia and in Southeast Asia. The United States, China, and the Philippines were the main actors in combating piracy in these different areas.[i]
The data contained in the report shows a worldwide increase from 180 incidents in 2017 to over 200 in 2018. Piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean decreased substantially.[ii] In 2018 there were no successful hijackings of vessels in the area. Only two ships were fired upon, but both were able to escape without harm. However, piracy increased substantially off the coast of West Africa[iii]. The area with the most incidents was the Gulf of Guinea. Pirates mainly came from Nigeria where they traveled more than 100 nautical miles out to sea to carry out the attacks. This is significantly farther than what prior pirates were able to go. A total of 141 hostages were taken globally. Of those, 130 were taken captive off the coast of Nigeria.[iv] The majority of these attacks happened in the last three months of 2018. In Southeast Asia, piracy has been slowly declining with only 40 reported attacks that were mainly low-level incidents, where only five individuals were kidnapped.[v] The Philippine Coast Guard was the main state actor in the area, combating piracy and ensuring safe transport.
This report gives an idea of what the current piracy situation looks like in the areas of interest. It indicates that past international operations led by China and the United States in the Indian Ocean, as well as the Philippine Coast Guard elsewhere, helped minimize the attacks in these regions. While there were no successful attacks in the Indian Ocean, the area continues to remain high-risk for ships, as there are still hijacking attempts taking place. The Gulf of Guinea is a new area of threat for seafarers, as pirates are adopting more extreme tactics. Pirates are now able to attack ships farther out to sea and are targeting a wide variety of cargo ships. This is a new trend, which puts larger container ships that travel farther out at sea, at risk. Currently, there is no international campaign or call to create an operation in order to combat the increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Southeast Asia is improving and will likely continue to, and the incidents have not been as extreme as those in West Africa.
Given the recent reports from 2018, it can be stated with moderate confidence that the war against maritime piracy in the Indian Ocean is being won. Additionally, it is likely that the Gulf of Guinea will continue to be a high risk area in 2019. It cannot yet be stated with confidence if the war against maritime piracy is being won overall.
[i] International Maritime Organization (n.d.) “Maritime Security and Piracy”, International Maritime Organization.
[ii] International Maritime Organization (n.d.) “Maritime Security and Piracy”, International Maritime Organization.
[iii] International Maritime Organization (n.d.) “Maritime Security and Piracy”, International Maritime Organization.
[iv] International Maritime Organization (n.d.) “Maritime Security and Piracy”, International Maritime Organization.
[v] International Maritime Organization (n.d.) “Maritime Security and Piracy”, International Maritime Organization.