Global piracy has shifted away from hijacking and towards kidnapping, according to new analysis released today by IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO), a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions.
“Piracy has changed in the past three years,” said Devlin McStay, data analyst at IHS Maritime and Trade. “The number of piracy attacks is decreasing overall, but kidnapping is becoming more common. We are seeing the number of kidnappings rise in the piracy hotspots of Southeast Asia and West Africa.”
IHS Maritime & Trade tracked nine kidnappings in 2014. That number rose to 19 in 2015 and so far stands at 44 from January to 30 September 2016.
In 2015, a total of 19 crew members were kidnapped. Between January and September 2016, 44 crew members were kidnapped. Within the same time-frame 37 percent of crew involved in a piracy situation have been kidnapped.
In the Gulf of Guinea, kidnapping accounted for 20 percent of all piracy indents in 2012, hijacking 24 percent and robbery 56 percent. Between January and September 2016, 60 percent of all piracy incidents were kidnaps and 40 percent robberies.
“Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is focused on kidnap for ransom and is concentrated on high-value Western targets,” said Martin Roberts, senior analyst at IHS Country Risk. “The need for alternative funding and ongoing militancy in the Niger Delta region will continue to drive these risks into 2017. Onshore dynamics are affecting offshore risks.”
The areas most affected by piracy include Southeast Asia, near the Malacca Straits, the Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of Guinea.
In 2014, there were 245 piracy attacks across 26 countries, 20 fewer than 2013. The number of incidents in 2015 were similar. So far, 2016 has had fewer than 100 attacks, making it the quietest year in six years.
The seas around the Philippines are the most pirated, with the seas around Nigeria the second most and the seas around India third.
“Tankers and bulk carriers are the target of choice, with smaller product chemical and oil tankers the most sought after,” McStay said. “A healthy demand for black market fuel and cargo that can be transferred quickly, means that these are the most sought after.”
Escalating trend: militant groups and piracy in Southeast Asia
“We are now seeing terrorist groups, such as Abu Sayyaf, employing a modus operandi more commonly associated with the region's pirate groups,” said Ridzwan Rahmat, naval analyst and reporter at IHS Jane’s.
Between March and July 2016, armed cells affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf are suspected to have been behind at least six known cases of kidnap-for-ransom operations, involving five tugs towing barges and a fishing trawler underway in waters off eastern Sabah and the Southern Philippines.
“The group has carried out kidnap-for-ransom operations in the past, but these were mostly from locations ashore,” Rahmat said. “This latest spate of attacks at sea, taking place also within a relatively short time period, represents an escalation compared to what previously were isolated incidents.”
Future threats in Southeast Asia
A number of potential developments on the technology front may also be presenting a challenge in maintaining Southeast Asian maritime security, according to the analysis from IHS Jane’s. “One such development Navies are monitoring closely is the availability of cheaper and more portable smartphone devices that are proliferating in line with wider internet connectivity, even in Southeast Asia's more remote regions,” Rahmat said. “Better internet connectivity has also given potential perpetrators of maritime crime the ability to monitor open sources of information, such as live automatic identification system (AIS) tracking websites, and to use information such as projected routes and arrival times, as well as cargo data, to target potential ships passing through vulnerable areas.”
Proliferation of technologies with potentially offensive capabilities, such as readily available remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which can be used by criminals for surveillance or payload delivery, is also a concern, the analysis said.