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Maritime crew kidnappings hit 10-year high




International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has revealed that more crew members were kidnapped at sea in 2016, than in any of the previous 10 years, despite global piracy reaching its lowest levels since 1998.

IMB, the research unit of the International Chamber of Commerce, in its 2016 report recorded 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on the world’s seas during the period.

Abductions, whether on land or at sea, are either financially induced or politically motivated, but the more worrisome is not just the financial losses but the psychological/mental trauma of the victims, which is currently under investigation.


As a result, the advice of mental health professionals is increasingly sought with regard to the strategic management of hostage incidents and the clinical management of those who have been kidnapped.

The Director of IMB, Pottengal Mukundan, said: “The continued fall in piracy is good news, but certain shipping routes remain dangerous, and the escalation of crew kidnapping is a worrying trend in some emerging areas.”

Mukundan, noting that the Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) has monitored world piracy since 1991, added: “The kidnappings in the Sulu Sea between East Malaysia and the Philippines are a particular concern.”

According to the 2016 report, worldwide, 150 vessels were boarded, 12 vessels were fired upon, seven were hijacked, and 22 attacks were thwarted. The number of hostages were 151.

Maritime kidnappings, however, showed a threefold increase over 2015. Pirates kidnapped 62 people for ransom in 15 separate incidents in 2016. Just over half were captured off West Africa, while 28 were kidnapped from tugs, barges, fishing boats, and more recently merchant ships, around Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Maritime Bureau has called on governments to investigate and identify the kidnappers and punish them under the appropriate law.

Mukundan urged ships to be vigilant in high-risk areas. “Shipmasters should follow the latest best management practices and where possible take early action to avoid being boarded. They should inform the IMB PRC or regional counter piracy centres for help and advice,” he said.

The report noted that the Gulf of Guinea remained a kidnap hotspot in 2016, with 34 crew members taken in nine separate incidents.

“Three vessels were hijacked in the region. There was a noticeable increase in attacks reported off Nigeria: 36 incidents in 2016, up from 14 in 2015. These included nine of the 12 vessels fired upon worldwide in 2016. Some were almost 100 nautical miles from the coastline,” it stated.

The kidnapping of crew from ocean going merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea and their transfer to the Southern Philippines also witnessed noticeable escalation in attacks.

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