Sea piracy plunged to its lowest levels in 18 years last year, but kidnappings of crewmembers for ransom is escalating off west Africa and in the Sulu Sea near the Philippines, a global maritime watchdog said yesterday.
The International Maritime Bureau said in its annual report that 191 piracy incidents were recorded worldwide, down from 246 in 2015 and the lowest level since 1998.
It said pirates hijacked seven vessels and held 151 hostages, down from 15 ships and 271 hostages in 2015.
However, it said maritime kidnappings surged threefold to 62 people from just 19 in 2015.
It said that 34 were captured off west Africa, while 28 were taken from tugs, barges, fishing boats and more recently merchant ships in waters around Malaysia and Indonesia, and were believed to be transferred to the southern Philippines.
“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. The kidnappings in the Sulu Sea between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines are a particular concern,” bureau director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement.
In the past quarter alone, 12 crew were kidnapped from two cargo vessels that were on the move and from an anchored fishing vessel in the Sulu Sea, the bureau said.
In November, a bulk carrier was fired upon, but pirates were not able to board the vessel, while earlier last year crewmembers were kidnapped in three attacks on vulnerable slow-moving tugs and barges, it said.
The bureau, whose piracy reporting center is based in Kuala Lumpur, urged ship owners to consider avoiding the Sulu Sea.
It called on governments to investigate and identify the kidnappers and punish them according to the law.
It urged ships to be vigilant in the Gulf of Guinea, which remained a high-risk kidnapping hotspot, with 34 seized from vessels in nine incidents.
Worldwide, Indonesia remained the top hotspot for piracy with 49 incidents, mostly low-level thefts, but this was sharply down from 108 in 2015.
Attacks surged off Nigeria, which accounted for 36 incidents, up from 14 in 2015.
India accounted for 14 incidents, Peru reported 11 and the Philippines 10.
In related news, eight Filipino fishermen were fatally shot by at least five suspected pirates who boarded their boat in the southern Philippines, officials said yesterday.
Seven other crewmembers survived the attack on Monday night in waters near Zamboanga City by jumping off the boat and swimming away when the attackers began tying up their colleagues, said Commodore Joel Garcia, head of Coast Guard Education and Training Command.
“According to the initial investigation, [the attackers] were on board a boat and they were all armed,” he said. “They immediately tied up eight of the crewmen, and the seven others were able to jump out and survive.”
Two of the survivors reached land and reported the massacre to a village leader, who alerted the coast guard. Two vessels were sent to the area, and coast guard personnel found the fishing boat floating with eight bodies on board. Pictures released by the coast guard showed the bodies sprawled on the boat’s bow, with a nylon cord tying the men together by their hands.
The coast guard found the five other survivors floating near Siromon Island, and they were given medical care and taken to the fishing boat’s homeport.