Piracy is on the rise, and coronavirus could make it worse

In early April, eight armed raiders boarded the container ship Fouma as it entered the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador. They fired warning shots toward the ship’s bridge, boarded the ship and opened several shipping containers, removing unknown items before escaping in two speedboats. Nobody was harmed.

Ecuador isn’t exactly a hot spot of global piracy, but armed robbers regularly attack ships in and around the port of Guayaquil. It’s the seventh-busiest port in Latin America, handling most of Ecuador’s agricultural and industrial imports and exports. Ships moored along the port’s quays or, like the Fouma, transiting its narrow river passages are easy prey for local criminal gangs.

Only a few short years ago the international community was celebrating the end of maritime piracy. Worldwide in 2019, there were fewer attacks and attempted attacks on ships than there had been in 25 years.

But as the Guayaquil attack hints, pirates may be getting more active. Already, the first three months of 2020 have seen a 24% increase in pirate attacks and attempted attacks, over the same period in 2019. As a scholar of sea piracy, I worry that the coronavirus pandemic may make piracy even more of a problem in the coming months and years.

Counter-piracy successes

Modern sea piracy often involves pirates in small fast boats approaching and boarding larger, slower-moving ships to rob them of cargo – such as car parts, oil, crew valuables, communication equipment – or to seize the ship and crew for ransom.

Beginning in 2008, the greater Gulf of Aden area off the coast of East Africa became the most dangerous waters in the world for pirate attacks. Somali pirates like those portrayed in the 2013 Tom Hanks movie “Captain Phillips” spent five years regularly hijacking large commercial vessels.

Three international naval efforts, and industry-wide efforts to make ships harder to attack and easier to defend, helped reduce the threat – as did improved local government on land, such as enhanced security and better health and education services. By 2019, the International Maritime Bureau reported no successful hijackings in the Greater Gulf of Aden.

In Southeast Asia, better aerial and naval surveillance has curbed pirate threats, with the help of improved coordination between national governments that share jurisdiction of the region’s busy shipping lanes.

As a result of these efforts, the global number of attacks and attempted attacks dropped significantly over the past decade, from a high of nearly 450 incidents in 2010 to fewer than 165 incidents in 2019 – the lowest number of actual and attempted pirate attacks since 1994. Ship hijackings, the most severe and visible manifestation of sea piracy, also have declined since 2010.

A return of pirates?

However, the Fouma attack is a troubling sign. The sea robbers seem to have had detailed advance knowledge of the ship’s cargo, as well as its course and the personnel on board. Those are clues that the pirates planned the attack, likely with help from the crew or others with specific information about the ship.

That sort of insider information is relatively rare in pirate attacks in general, but is common when pirates go after large cargo vessels and tanker ships, as happens in about one-third of pirate attacks.

Piracy in the waters off of South America – and off West Africa – has been increasing somewhat in recent years. Some of the conditions in those regions are similar to the ones that drove the Somali spike a decade ago: weak governments embroiled in political violence, widespread economic hardship and easy access to weapons.

Most piracy ultimately affects poor countries with weak governments. That’s because criminals, insurgents and other groups see opportunities to raise money for their land-based battles by stealing from passing ships. For instance, militant groups in Nigeria, particularly in the Niger River Delta region and the Gulf of Guinea, siphon oil off tanker ships and resell it on the black market.

With economic hardship striking Venezuela and Brazil, poor and jobless citizens may see opportunities offshore. Weak police and corrupt officials only exacerbate the economic problems.

The coronavirus weakens nations – and ships

The medical and economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic seems likely to pose severe challenges for countries with few resources and weak governments. West African and South American countries already struggle to police their territorial waters. Those regions have not yet been severely affected by the coronavirus, though infections are growing on both continents.

As hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, the regions’ governments will almost certainly shift their public safety efforts away from sea piracy and toward more immediate concerns on land. That will create opportunities for pirates.

The disease may make it harder for crews to protect ships as well. Most merchant vessel crews are already stretched thin. If crew members get sick, restrictions on international travel prevent their replacements from meeting the ship in whatever port it’s in.

Slowing consumer spending around the globe means less trade, which brings less revenue for shipping companies to spend on armed guards or other methods of protecting ships against pirates. As a result, ships will likely become easier targets for pirates.

Even with the early numbers suggesting an increase for 2020, global piracy still isn’t as high as it was during the Somali peak from 2009 to 2012. But if economic conditions worsen around the globe and ships look like easy targets, more desperate people may turn to piracy, or ramp up their existing efforts in an attempt to survive.

Source: World Economic Forum, HELLENIC SHIPPING NEWS


Pirates flee after gun battle with Stolt tanker in Gulf of Aden

No injuries or serious damage to Stolt Apal after six pirates in two skiffs attempted to intercept the ship.


Armed guards on a Stolt-Nielsen chemical tanker have been involved in a brief gun battle with pirates who attacked the vessel as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden on Sunday.

Stolt Tankers confirmed earlier intelligence reports that the UK-flagged 32,798-dwt Stolt Apal (built 2016) suffered minor damage during the incident.

There were no casualties reported on board the tanker, which is now continuing its laden voyage towards the Suez Canal.

The attack is thought to be the ninth in the region this year, although the overall level of piracy in the region is far below the level seen in the first half of the last decade.

“Stolt Apal was approached by two skiffs running at high speed with six armed pirates,” Stolt Tankers said in a statement

“After multiple warning shots were fired by the armed guard team aboard Stolt Apal, the skiffs opened fire on the ship. The armed guard team returned fire, disabling one skiff which ending the pursuit.”

No injuries

Stolt said the incident, which occurred 75 nautical miles south of Yemen, saw the vessel’s bridge area sustain minor damage from bullets but there were no injuries, no pollution and there was no impact on its cargo.

A coalition warship responded and Stolt Apal has resumed its voyage, the company added. The vessel was reported to be sailing at 13 knots.

The Maritime Security Company said that one skiff was observed following the tanker’s course at a distance of 2 nautical miles.

After adjusting course, a second skiff was seen approaching from a distance of 3 nautical miles at approximately 23 knots.

The armed guards opened fire when one closed to 800 metres from the tanker.

Risk Consultancy Company said that although the nature of the attack remained unclear, it is ninth reported incident in the Gulf of Aden this year.

“This latest incident occurred 58 nautical miles east of a previous suspicious approach where several skiffs were reported to have closed within 1 nautical mile of a vessel transiting westbound”.

The incident is also 117 nautical miles west of a reported attack against a Saudi-flagged vessel.

In recent months, most security attention in shipping has been focused on West Africa after a string of crew kidnappings.

Source: TradeWinds


Attacked – MT STOLT APAL – Gulf of Aden

Date:17th May 2020

Location:1343.0N, 05037.4E

WARNING NOTICE 001/MAY/2020 On 17 MAY 2020 at approximately 1230UTC MT STOLT APAL was attacked in position 1343N 05037.4E. Vessels transiting the area are advised to exercise extreme caution.

Source: UKMTO, TradeWinds


FHQ STAFF at full capability

Despite World Pandemic and after passed strict security protocols based on quarantine periods and testing, the EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation ATALANTA 34th FHQ started its embarked rotation on 3rd may 2020. Force Commander, Spanish Navy Rear Admiral Ignacio Villanueva Serrano supported by his international Staff commands a force currently composed of Frigate Numancia (Flag Ship, Spanish Navy), Frigate Bergamini (Italian Navy), the Spanish Maritime Patrol Aircraft P3-M and the German Maritime Patrol Aircraft P3-C and Spanish Unmanned Aerial Systems.

Numancia and Bergamini Frigates, Bergamini and Numancia organic helos and Spanish Maritime Patrol Aircraft P3-M in formation

Real Admiral Ignacio Villanueva Staff composed by 21 people is already fully integrated with the Flag Ship Crew, Spanish frigate F-83 “Numancia” which will be replaced next June by her sister frigate F-81 “Santa Maria”.

Rear Admiral Ignacio Villanueva Serrano, Force Commander of 34th Rotation.

This international staff led by Spain is a combination of six different nations: Italy, Serbia, Montenegro, Germany, South Korea and Spain. Italy is covering Chief of Staff, Personnel and Logistic Officers and one Battle Watch Assistant. Serbian and Montenegro Navy has contributed with one Battle Watch Captain each one. Germany has provided the Intelligence Assistant. Legal Advisor, Current Operations Officer, Future Operations Officer and Intelligence Officer comes from the Spanish Navy. Last but not least, the post of Influence Operations Officer is occupied by South Korea Navy.

EUNAVFOR ATALANTA has been fighting piracy during latest eleven years, demonstrating the ability and the commitment of European Union to work along many different nations in the maritime domain. An outstanding example is South Korean Navy which, after years of periodic and fundamental contribution, has now occupied the very important staff position of Influence Operations Officer. This shows once more the strength and cohesive of international maritime community to maintain security in this very important Ocean.

Dedicated FHQ personnel

In addition, Real Admiral Villanueva commands the “Spanish Supported Staff” composed by nine double hatted people from Numancia Crew: Public Affairs Officer, Medical Advisor, Air Operations Officer, Communication and Information Systems Officer, two Battle Watch Assistants and one Battle Watch Captain. It is planned that these roles will be assumed by officers from next Flag Ship Frigate Santa Maria in June.

From now on and until its future takeover by Italy next August, the 34th Rotation is at full capability in order to protect World Food Program Ships and to deter and repress piracy at sea around the Gulf of Aden, the Horn of Africa and the Somali Basin. Despite Pandemic which implies much limited rest for crews during port visits, European Union and friend Navies will unrelenting sailing through the Region to provide maritime security.



Armed men attack crew member on bulker in Singapore Strait

In its weekly report for 5-11 May, ReCAAP ISC informed of two incidents of armed robbery against ships in Asia. Of these, one was a CAT 2 incident onboard a bulk carrier underway in the Singapore Strait, where perpetrators attacked and robbed a crew member.

The first incident involves the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier Vega Aquarius. The ship was en route from Singapore to China, at the time.

While about 3 nm north of Pulau Nongsa, Indonesia in the eastbound lane of the TSS in the Singapore Strait on 9 May, five perpetrators armed with knives appeared at the stern deck.

The perpetrators confronted the duty ordinary seaman and robbed his cellular phone.

Shortly after, the ordinary seaman managed to escape and alerted the master at the wheelhouse. Then, the crew raised the alarm and mustered at the wheelhouse.

A search onboard, after the perpetrators escaped, found two sets of breathing apparatus stolen.

As a result of the attack, the ordinary seaman sustained minor head injury.

The master reported the incident to Singapore Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS), which issued a safety navigational broadcast.

The Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF), Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG) and the Indonesian authorities were notified. The ship required no assistance and resumed voyage.

Data so far suggests this was the 13th incident against ships in Singapore Strait for the year 2020.

The second incident involves the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier while at Jasmine Taboneo Anchorage, Indonesia.

While at anchor awaiting cargo operations to commence, the crew discovered that the forecastle store door’s locking arrangement had been tampered with and the padlock was broken.

Upon checking, three mooring ropes (220m each) were missing and 100m of another mooring rope had been cut off.

The master reported the incident to the local authorities.

The local port control, Navy and Police boarded the ship for investigation. There were no injuries.



ReCAAP: Nine Piracy and Armed Robbery Incidents in Asia During April

ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre today issued its April 2020 Report on the situation of piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia. A summary is appended. The full report can be downloaded from the ReCAAP ISC website.


  •  A total of nine incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported in Asia in April 2020
  • Of the nine incidents, one was a piracy incident and eight were incidents of armed robbery against ships
  • There was no report of abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah in April 2020
  • However, the abduction of crew for ransom in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah remains a serious concern
  • ReCAAP ISC is also concerned about the continued occurrence of incidents on board ships while underway in the Singapore Strait
  • With three incidents reported in April 2020, a total of 12 incidents have been reported in the Singapore Strait since January 2020
  • Of the 12 incidents, 11 incidents occurred in the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) and one incident in the precautionary area in the Singapore Strait
  • ReCAAP ISC has issued an Incident Alert (IA/04/2020) on 30 Apr 20 on the three incidents which occurred during 16-30 Apr to ships while underway in the Singapore Strait

Number of Incidents

  • In April 2020, nine incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported
  • All were actual incidents
  • No attempted incident was reported
  • All incidents have been verified and reported to ReCAAP ISC by ReCAAP Focal Points
  • On a month-to-month comparison, the number of total incidents reported in April 2020 is lower than the monthly number of incidents in 2020, except for the preceding month of March 2020

Location of Incidents



Seafarers kidnapped after pirates target three ships off West Africa

Russian and Ukrainian crew members abducted from vessels off Equatorial Guinea on same day.

Four crew members have been abducted from two vessels attacked by pirates off Equatorial Guinea on the same day.

And a Cosco VLCC was also pursued by a speedboat off Cameroon as the threat from these groups shows no sign of abating.

The Russia embassy in Equatorial Guinea said on Facebook that pirates had not yet made ransom demands for two of its citizens kidnapped from the 1,600-dwt research ship Djibloho (built 1989) on 9 May.

The vessel, owned by the government, was at anchorage in Luba when the attack occurred.

And a Russian and a Ukrainian were reported seized from the 8,600-dwt cargoship Rio Mitong (built 1993), 2 nautical miles (3.7km) from Malabo.

Same group?

A security consultancy reported that the vessel was approached by a single speedboat with an unknown number of persons onboard.

Ladders were used to board the ship. It is managed by ITS International Trades of Belgium, which could not be contacted.

Also report that, it was not yet clear which incident occurred first or whether they were conducted by the same group.

If confirmed, the incidents would bring the total number of crew members being held after kidnapping in the region to 52.

“Across the last 48 hours there has been an increase in reporting concerning activity involving vessels reported to have acted in a suspicious manner,”security consultancy said.

“Whilst the trend of incidents within West Africa is showing a gradual decline, there is an upward trend in severity of incidents, notably those involving kidnap for ransom. Vessels operating in this region must maintain the highest levels of vigilance.”

VLCC pursued

The security consultancy reported also that the 308,000-dwt Cosco Shipping Energy Transportation VLCC Yuan Qiu Hu (built 2015) reported a pursuit by a speedboat 22 nautical miles off South Bakassi, Cameroon, on the same day.

The ship is understood to have increased speed while awaiting support from Cameroonian Brigade d’Intervention Rapide forces.

A patrol boat made it to the scene 45 minutes later and the speedboat left.

This is the fourth incident in the waters off Cameroon within 2020, with the last recorded on 20 March, when a vessel was fired on.

In another report, a speedboat was sighted circling an offshore platform in waters off Mayumba, Gabon.


EU NAVFOR Somalia fights against piracy even under COVID-19 crisis

EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation ATALANTA units have few opportunities to collaborate with ships of other navies and Combined Task Forces (CTF) at sea. However, Operation ATALANTA always tries to increase synergies with regional states and military actors present in the region to be ready to deter, prevent and repress piracy and armed robbery at sea.

Operation ATALANTA had the opportunity to receive the support of the TF 53, a flexible and efficient unit that provides logistics support to the US fleet. In an excellent manoeuvre, Spanish frigate Numancia and US Navy ship Wally Schirra accomplished Replenishment at Sea (RAS) in only 2 hours.

Thanks to this support, not only can EU NAVFOR units extend their range of operation without entering a port, but also EU NAVFOR remains ready to accomplish his mandate even under COVID-19 crisis, reducing the risk of infection and protecting their crew. Risk mitigation measures are in place in order to ensure the continuation of the operation under the current circumstances.

EU NAVFOR remains full mission capable and ready to deter, prevent, and repress piracy. COVID-19 crisis has not reduced the capability of ATALANTA to fight against piracy and ATALANTA´s units are all fully operational.



Six crew kidnapped from two vessels in Gabon

Two fishing trawlers were attacked, boarded, and three crew members kidnapped from each in separate incidents off the coast of Libreville, Gabon, on 3 May.

One pirate skiff holding 13 assailants was involved in both attacks, which took place on board the Senegal flagged vessels, Amerger II and Amerger VII. The attacks occurred 20 nautical miles and 36 nautical miles away from shore, respectively.

The nationalities of the kidnapped crew are thought to be made up of three Indonesian, two Senegalese, and one South Korean seafarer.

Attacks and subsequent kidnappings appear to be on the rise in the Gulf of Guinea, with 47 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the region recorded in Q1 of 2020, according to IMB. Another recent attack took place 1 May, where 10 crew members were kidnapped off product tanker Vemahope, 116 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria.

This latest incident brings the total number of kidnaps in West African waters to 48.

Source: Safety at Sea


12th incident against ship in Singapore Strait for 2020

In its weekly report for 28 April-4 May, ReCAAP ISC informed of one armed robbery against ships in Asia, involving the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker ‘Chem Ranger’ in the eastbound lane of the TSS in the Singapore Strait.

The incident took place in the early morning hours of 30 April, approximately 6.2 nm northwest of Tanjung Tondong, Pulau Bintan, Indonesia in the eastbound lane of the TSS in the Singapore Strait (Straits of Malacca & Singapore).

With this incident, a total of 12 incidents have occurred in the Singapore Strait since January 2020, comprising 11 incidents in the eastbound lane of the TSS and one incident in the precautionary area in the Singapore Strait.

The new incident comes in addition to three incidents reported in the eastbound lane within just 15 days, according to a relevant incident alert by ReCAAP ISC last week.

The ReCAAP ISC had issued five Incident Alerts in 2019 and two Incident Alerts in 2020 on incidents occurred to ships while underway in the eastbound lane of the TSS in the Singapore Strait.

The incident

While the tanker was en route from Singapore to Ulsan, Republic of Korea, three perpetrators were sighted in the engine room.

The general alarm was raised and crew mustered. The master reported the incident to Singapore Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS). A safety navigational broadcast was initiated. The Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF), Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG) and the Indonesian authorities were notified.

The master deviated the ship back to the port of Singapore and requested assistance from the authorities to conduct search on board for the perpetrators.

Upon her arrival in Singapore, the Singapore PCG officers boarded the ship and conducted a search. There was no sighting of the perpetrators onboard. The crew was not injured and nothing was stolen.


The ReCAAP ISC urges ship master and crew to report all incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships to the nearest coastal State and flag State, exercise vigilance and adopt relevant preventive measures taking reference from the Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia.

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