Despite the disruption of vessel trade caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea continued to plague shipping interests in 2020. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) is a global business association with more than six million members in 130 countries.1 ICC's International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recently published its annual piracy report reflecting an increase in hostile and armed attacks against vessels in 2020.2 IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) compiles global statistics for each calendar year. The PRC annual report detailed 195 incidents of piracy attacks in 2020 — a sharp increase from the 162 reported attacks in 2019. Id. According to the PRC report, the prevalence of vessel attacks occurring in the Gulf of Guinea and the Singapore Straits accounts for the increase in this criminal enterprise. Last year, there were no attacks in Somalia.

What is the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre?      

Approximately 80 percent of the world's cargo is transported by the international shipping trade. Given the importance of shipping to international business interests, the ICC formed the IMB. Id.  In 1991, IMB formed the PRC, which is a reporting repository of maritime crimes and armed robbery against ships. The PRC also provides safety information to the shipping industry to protect vessels and crew throughout the world. For example, PRC provides alerts of potential threats through the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System  Safety Net Services and emails at no cost to vessel operators and crewmembers.    

The Alarming Statistics

The PRC report contains the statistics for ship and crew attacks in 2020. Last year, 161 ships were boarded by pirates, and three vessels were hijacked. Twenty attempted attacks failed and 11 ships withstood gunfire. Of those attacks, the PRC reports that 94 ships were anchored at the time of the piracy attack. Notably, 88 ships were on the high seas when attacked, and 13 ships were berthed. Id.   In 2020, 135 crewmembers were kidnapped and removed from their vessels to offshore locations while awaiting satisfaction of their ransom demands. Of those kidnapped, 95 percent or 130 crewmembers were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents in the Gulf of Guinea. According to PRC, the location of the kidnappings ranged from 60 to 200 nautical miles offshore. For that reason,  the IMB recommends that ships maintain a buffer of 250 nautical miles from the shoreline to avert attacks. Id.

Unfortunately, advanced technology including, the internet and cellular telephones, supports the enterprise of maritime criminals. The increase in criminal activity is viewed by the IMB as a matter of increased urgency. The threat to crewmembers and shipping interests increases shipping costs and impacts global insurance for cargo, hull and machinery. These criminal acts also pose a serious danger to crewmembers.


Piracy and armed robbery continue to disrupt supply chains and worldwide logistics. IMB, in conjunction with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other global shipping interests, will collaborate to combat this continuing threat on the high seas.   


1. The Commercial Crime Services (CCS) is a specialized division of the ICC and publishes information about the International Maritime Bureau.


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