Dozens of pirate attacks in first quarter of 2020

Seafarers face continuing threats from pirates and armed robbers on the world’s seas.

The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported 47 attacks in the first three months of 2020, up from 38 in the same period last year.  Pirates boarded 37 ships in the first quarter of 2020. Seafarers are still facing continuing threats from pirates and armed robbers on the world’s seas.

The Gulf of Guinea remains the world’s piracy hotspot.  Seventeen crew were kidnapped in three incidents in these waters, at distances of between 45 and 75 nautical miles from the coast.  

IMB’s latest global piracy report shows zero hijackings in the last two quarters, and no incidents around Somalia.  But with no sign of a reduction in attacks worldwide, IMB encourages shipowners to stay vigilant, calling for continued international cooperation. 

“Navy patrols, onboard security measures, cooperation and transparent information exchange between authorities, are all factors which help address the crimes of piracy and armed robbery,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett. 

“The threat to crew is, however, still real – whether from violent gangs, or opportunistic armed thieves inadvertently coming face-to-face with the crew. Ships’ masters must continue to follow industry best practice diligently and maintain watches. Early detection of an approaching pirate skiff is often key to avoiding an attack.” 

Gulf of Guinea kidnappings persist

IMB’s 24-hour Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) recorded 21 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in Q1 2020.  Of these, 12 were on vessels underway at an average of 70 nautical miles off the coast.  All vessel types are at risk.  The perpetrators are usually armed.  They approach in speedboats, boarding ships in order to steal stores or cargo and abduct crewmembers to demand a ransom.

While ten vessels were fired upon worldwide for the whole of 2019, four already reported being fired at within Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the first quarter of 2020.  This includes a container ship underway around 130 nm southwest of Brass. 

In another incident around 102 nm northwest of Sao Tome Island, another container ship was boarded by pirates.  The crew retreated into the citadel and raised the alarm.  On receiving the alert, the IMB PRC liaised with Regional Authorities and the vessel operator until the vessel was safe and the crew had emerged from the citadel. 


Strategic deployment of Marine Police patrol vessels has resulted in a continued decline in attacks on ships in most Indonesian anchorages and waterways.  In Q1 2020, just five anchored vessels were reported boarded. These are often low-level armed robbery attacks. 

Five ships were boarded while underway in the Singapore Straits.  There were no attacks reported in Q1 2019. These low-level armed attacks are a distraction to crews navigating in congested waters. In one incident, the crew managed to lock their assailants in the storeroom, which enabled their later arrest.      

Other violence against seafarers includes the kidnapping of five crew for ransom in an attack on a fishing vessel off Sabah, Malaysia in January 2020.  In March, at Macapa Anchorage, Brazil, a watchman was confronted while on duty and held temporarily by a group of robbers.  

Meanwhile, in the anchorage of Callao, Peru, three crew were apprehended by nine robbers who boarded their vessel to steal the ship’s stores. Two crew were injured. Callao recorded five incidents in the last quarter of 2019 and three this quarter. 

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