Cape Town – The African Union should play a much bigger role to ensure the safekeeping of crew members and cargo ships in African waters, said Deanna Collins, director of Marine Crew Services (MCS).
MCS is responsible for placing South African seafarers with international shipping and ship management companies and the group takes extra care to not place crew members on ships that fare in maritime piracy hotspots, Collins said.
Although there was a notable increase in kidnappings of seafarers in 2016, no South African crew members placed by MCS were among those targeted.
“The safety of the crew members that we place with international companies is paramount and we make sure these companies don’t trade in dangerous waters,” according to Collins.
“It’s unfortunate that countries such as Nigeria are at such a disadvantage with kidnapping and maritime piracy,” she added, “and I think the AU could assist these countries by putting better security measures in place.”
In 2016, maritime attacks off Nigeria increased significantly to 36 incidents – up from 14 in 2015, according to the latest annual piracy report released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) on Tuesday.
The IMB’s 2016 report showed that the Gulf of Guinea, which includes West African countries such as Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana Senegal and Sierra Leone, remained a kidnap hotspot for crew members in 2016.
Altogether 34 crew members were taken hostage in nine separate incidents, while three vessels were hijacked in the same period.
Maritime piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea in 2015 were estimated to amount to $719m, according to a separate report by Oceans Beyond Piracy – a non-profit organisation with the intent to develop adequate responses to maritime piracy.
The Gulf of Guinea is still considered the most dangerous region for seafarers with a rise in violence and an increase in kidnappings. Of the 62 people who were kidnapped in incidents globally in 2016, over half were captured off West Africa, the IMB report showed.
Altogether 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery were recorded on the world’s seas, of which 150 vessels were boarded, 12 vessels were fired upon, seven were hijacked and 150 people were taken hostage.
Although incidences of piracy decreased, reaching its lowest levels since 1998, maritime kidnappings increased threefold from 2015.
READ: Maritime kidnappings surge in 2016 - piracy report
In the period under review, IMB recorded two incidents off Somalia – pirates attempted to attack a container vessel in the Gulf of Aden in May, and fired on a product tanker in the Somali Basin. “This latest incident demonstrates that the capacity and intent to attack merchant shipping still exist off Somalia.”
READ: Cost of Somali piracy slumps, attacks fall
Sulu Sea attacks
In the Sulu Sea, located between the Philippines and the island of Borneo, there was a notable increase in maritime attacks with the kidnapping of crew from ocean going merchant vessels and their transfer to the Southern Philippines, according to the IMB’s report.
In the last quarter, 12 crew members were kidnapped from two cargo vessels and an anchored fishing vessel. In November pirates fired on a bulk carrier, although pirates were not able to board the vessel. Earlier in 2016, there were kidnappings in three attacks on vulnerable slow-moving tugs and barges. Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter: