Pirates still roam the seas, but their numbers are at an 18-year-low, according to a new report from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The report recorded 191 incidences of piracy or armed robbery on the high seas in 2016. This is down from 246 in 2015 and is the lowest total recorded since 1998.
In an exclusive interview American Media Institute, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization Ki-Tack Lim, which is separate from the IMB, confirmed those findings.
In an interview held in Tromso, Norway where Lim attended the 2017 Arctic Frontiers conference, he said he was especially pleased that "piracy [is] on a downward trend in most regions around the globe.”
He credited the improvement in part to coordinated international efforts to end piracy. These include the NATO-led anti-piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa dubbed Operation Ocean Shield. Begun in 2009 this effort - to which the United States Navy was the largest contributor - was so successful in battling the scourge of Somali piracy, that it was ended in December.
Somali pirates were involved in just two piracy events in 2016; though neither incident led to a successful boarding. The report, however, warns that “a single successful hijacking of a merchant's vessel, will rekindle the Somali pirates’ desire to resume their piracy efforts.” On shore, Somali pirates continue to hold three hostages.
Three areas around the globe remain hotspots for piracy: Peru, Nigeria and in South East Asian waters around the Southern Philippines. Nigeria saw 36 incidents of piracy in 2016. The figure is more than double the 14 incidents in 2015. Both the Philippines and Nigeria also saw an increase in maritime kidnappings.
Globally, 62 people were kidnapped from vessels and held for ransom in 2016. The 15 separate incidences of kidnapping in 2016 marked a three-fold increase from 2016.
Peru, which experienced no piracy in 2015, saw 11 incidents in 2016. Ten of these incidents took place in the country’s main port of Callao. Some involved well-armed groups targeting ships with the aid of skiffs and other incidents seemed less well planned including the incident in which a pirate attempted to board a tanker by climbing up its anchor.
The maritime security consulting firm Gray Page noted that a government crackdown on the drug trade likely resulted in some criminals trying their hand at piracy. Some 90 dockworkers have been killed in drug-related violence in the report in the last year.
The incidents in Callao reflect the latest trend in piracy: attacking ships at anchor or close to popular ports rather than on the high seas.
This is also the case in Nigeria one of the other hotspots noted in the IMB report where vessels holding oil and operating in coastal waters often found themselves victims of pirate attacks. “In many past incidents, pirates hijacked the vessels for several days and ransacked the vessels," the report stated.
“I want to work on developing other regional solutions to piracy and cooperative efforts like we saw in the Horn of Africa,” Lim said. The secretary-general told AMI he would work to develop a joint anti-piracy center in Singapore to allow Southeast Asian countries to pool their intelligence capabilities.
Finally, the uptick in piracy in South East Asia waters is "a direct response" to the aggressive anti-terror efforts on land "by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as well as parallel efforts by the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia,” said Armando Heredia, an analyst with the Center for International Maritime Security, “[Piracy] is also a means of raising revenue to continue [terrorist] operations."
In one gruesome episode that occurred earlier this month, heavily-armed pirates linked to the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf killed eight fishermen on a Philippine vessel.
Heredia noted that further cooperation on counter-piracy issue in Southeast Asia would be “challenging given disparate capabilities, interoperability, and historical suspicion” he said. Other countries may be willing to assist the Philippines. Early this month, following a visit by Russian warships to Manila, the Russian Navy offered to help the Philippines in anti-piracy training efforts.