Piracy has decreased in 2021 but the threat remains

According to the annual piracy report published recently by the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB), piracy and armed robbery at sea last year has reached an all-time low since 1994. But the threat remains.

The report shows that in 2021, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre recorded a total of 132 incidents against ships. Out of these, 115 vessels were boarded, 11 were attempted attacks, 5 vessels were fired upon and 1 vessel was hijacked.

The overall decrease in incidents does not mean that the piracy has been almost eradicated,” commented Wilfried Lemmens, Managing Director of the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association. “Several factors such as the global pandemic, the decrease in maritime traffic, and the increased presence of international including European naval vessels in specific high risk zones all contributed to lower numbers last year.”

A closer examination of the report further confirms this view:

The Gulf of Guinea remains the world’s piracy hotspot as it still accounts for all the kidnapping incidents globally, despite seeing a decrease of reported incidents from 81 in 2020 to 34 in 2021.

Significant decrease in activities also took place outside Somalia. Thanks to Operation ATALANTA, a combined effort of the Federal Government of Somalia and the naval forces of EU Member States, coordinated by the EU’s External Action Service, piracy has consistently been suppressed to ensure peace and stability from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf of Aden.

The Straits of Singapore on the other hand reported 35 cases, the highest since 1992.

Central and South Americas likewise reported an increase of armed attacks at sea, from 30 in 2020 to 36 in 2021. The most dramatic increase took place in the anchorage of Callao in Peru, where reported cases more than doubled from 8 in 2020 to 18 in 2021.

It is therefore clear that the lower figures do not tell the full story: Pirates still have the capacity to strike, and they will whenever the opportunity arises.

Mr Lemmens further explained:

Belgian shipowners extend their gratitude to the Belgian Navy, the naval forces of other EU Member States involved in the EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation ATALANTA for their continued efforts and vigilance. The IMB report clearly demonstrates that the suppression of piracy can only succeed with the close collaboration between governments and the presence of international defense vessels.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the strategic importance of shipping in maintaining global supply chains. Seafarers are our unsung heroes in securing our supplies and have gone through extreme difficulties with crew changes. They do not deserve to have their lives risked for simply doing their job.”

With the mandate of Operation ATALANTA Somalia coming to a close at the end of 2022, the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association joins other shipowners’ associations in calling for an extension. The RBSA also fully supports the EU’s plan to prolong the Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) mandates for the continued patrol of the Gulf of Guinea by European naval ships, which have been helping West African navies in responding to such threats on the high seas.