Maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Western Africa

In 2013, maritime piracy has reached its lowest level in six years, according to the findings of the last report covering the last five years and drafted by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

Photo credit: Eddie Harrison/U.S. NavyAccording to IMB, the total number of incidents has gone from 297 in 2012 to 264 in 2013, down by 11% compared to 2012 and by 35% compared to 2009, in which 410 cases of piracy were reported.

This downward trend has brought the number down to the level reached in 2007 (263). In 2013, the attacks perpetrated worldwide and reported by IMB pertained to 12 highjacked vessels, 202 boarded ships, 22 having sustained fire shots while 28 abduction attempts failed. In total, 373 people were affected by these attacks which claimed the life of one sailor and injured 21 others while the number of hostages taken attained 304.

Maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden: Decrease in hijack attempts

The number one high-risk area of maritime piracy, which stretches out from the Red Sea to the Mozambique Channel and the Gulf of Aden has in recent years witnessed a significant decrease in the number of attacks. In 2013, only 15 incidents have been reported, that is 15 times less than in 2009.

This improvement at the level of security is accounted for by:

  • the reinforcing of security systems in the region,
  • the presence of armed guards on board ships,
  • frequency of patrols by international naval forces.

Despite the decrease in the number of attacks, the pirates’ action areas continue to expand. From the Gulf of Aden, these events have shifted to the coast of West Africa (Gulf of Guinea) and to Asia.

Maritime piracy in western Africa: 53 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea

The second high-risk area extends from the Ivorian coasts to those of the Congo, through the territorial waters of Nigeria and those of Cameroon. In 2013, the pirates’ new hunting area has stretched out to the Moroccan coast. An attack was staged in the Port of Safi (Moroccan city on the Atlantic coast) and another off Mauritania. In the south and for the first time, two assaults occurred in Gabonese waters.

This maritime piracy territorial expansion paradoxically coincided with a decrease in 2013 in the number of attacks. For all of West Africa, listed incidents have dwindled from 62 in 2012 down to 53 in 2013, a 14.5% decline after several increases up to 33% between 2009 and 2010.

Only Nigeria continues to worsen the picture. With nearly a 15% increase compared to 2012, acts of piracy occurring off the coast of Nigeria account for more than 58% of the incidents reported by IMB in the region.

In West Africa, most offences have been perpetrated by Nigerian pirates heavily armed and well organized, oftentimes attacking tankers filled with crude petroleum to divert them and discharge their cargo.

This new kind of piracy, targeting energetic materials, is particularly worrisome for large oil importers in the region: Europe, the United States and China, all of which in fear that this very busy sea route becomes unusable for cargo.

Maritime piracy in Asia: Minor incidents

According to IMB, Asia is said to have the highest number of incidents (167). Three hot zones are listed. In Indonesia, where maritime piracy is on the rise since 2009, 106 attacks have been reported. It is followed by India and Bangladesh, together accounting for 26 attacks and Malaysia with 9 incidents.

Attacks in this region lead to less important thefts in comparison with those made in the Gulf of Guinea and the Gulf of Aden.

Maritime piracy: Cost to the global economy

According to the World Bank, maritime piracy costs the economy 18 billion USD. This figure includes among others, ransoms, insurance premiums, costs of changing ship routes, the value of cargo lost or stolen, and the cost of building safety devices. Indirect costs may worsen these losses such as the disruption of maritime and tourism activities along the coasts under the threat of this scourge or the disruption of corporate supply chain.

Maritime piracy insurance

Given the importance and value of the property covered, insurers are increasingly pressing ship owners to comply with safety measures and with the required presence of a security team on board.

Most ships take out hull and cargo maritime insurance, covering major hazards pertaining to navigation such as risks of war and piracy. Furthermore, an additional coverage, a “Kidnap and Ransom insurance", plan can be taken to meet a ransom demand.

Evolution of the number of maritime piracy acts worlwide: 2009-2013

200920102011201220132012/2013 evolution
Rest of Asia
Total Asia
99 142 119 130 167 28.46%
East Africa
Gulf of Aden
Red Sea
Arabian Sea
Indian Ocean
Total East Africa
218 219 237 75 15 -80%
West Africa
Côte d’Ivoire
2 6157-53.33%
Rest of the region
Total West Africa*
46 39 52 62 53 -14.51%
Rest of the World
Grand total
*including attacks off Moroccan and Mauritanian coasts. Source:nternational Maritime Bureau: 2013 report
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