On Wednesday, Oceans Beyond Piracy released its annual report on the economic and human costs of pirate activity for 2016, and trends in West Africa, Southeast Asia and East Africa will give operators cause for concern.
Kidnapping incidents skyrocketed in the waters between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia last year. In 2015, there were zero attacks in this quiet border region, but last year there were 21, all perpetrated by groups linked to the terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf. 67 seafarers were kidnapped and six were killed in the attacks, and the group executed several more hostages in the first few months of 2017.
Kidnapping also rose off West Africa, as Nigerian gangs elected to make up for declining revenues from oil theft and government reparations payments by making off with vessels and crews. A total of 96 seafarers were taken hostage off West Africa last year, more than double the number in 2015. Over 1900 seafarers were affected by pirate attacks, the majority within Nigeria's EEZ. The total cost to maritime interests of piracy in the region rose to $800 million, including $350 million in contracted maritime securty expenses.
There were no successful attacks last year in the world's other high-profile piracy region – the waters off the Horn of Africa – but there were nearly 30 reported piracy incidents. OBP noted that most ship operators began ratcheting down the size of their embarked security contractor teams to three members (rather than four) last year as a cost-saving measure. Security spending fell from $6.6 billion in 2012 to $1.7 billion in 2016, lowering the deterrence factor – a circumstance that may be reflected in the spate of hijackings and attacks this spring, the first successful boardings in five years. OBP emphasized that Somali criminal networks have sustained their operations with human trafficking and arms smuggling over the intervening period, and these groups still have the capacity to go back to piracy when they perceive that conditions are favorable. If the decline in maritime security spending is not accompanied by an increase in investment in regional security forces, OBP warns, there will be plenty of room for piracy to resume in East Africa.