THE ICC International Maritime Bureau has flagged a “worrying” rise in Somali pirate activity as total first-quarter piracy incidents increase.

The IMB in its latest report recorded 33 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the first three months of 2024, up from 27 incidents in the same period last year.

Of those 33 incidents, 24 vessels were boarded, six experienced attempted attacks, two were hijacked and one was fired on.

Violence toward crew continued in the first quarter; 35 crew members were taken hostage, nine were kidnapped and one was threatened.

Risks off Somalia

The first-quarter report highlighted two reported hijackings in waters off Somalia, apparently signalling a continued threat of Somali piracy incidents.

IMB attributed the incidents to Somali pirates, who “demonstrate mounting capabilities”, targeting vessels at great distances from the Somali coast.

A Bangladesh-flagged bulk carrier was hijacked on 12 March and its 23 crew were taken hostage by at least 20 Somali pirates, according to the bureau.

The vessel was underway about 550 nautical miles from Mogadishu while en route from Mozambique to the UAE.

The IMB said it is aware of several reported hijacked dhows and fishing vessels, which are ideal “mother ships” to launch attacks at distances from the Somali coastline.

“The resurgence of Somali pirate activity is worrying, and now more than ever it is crucial to protect trade, safeguard routes, and the safety of seafarers who keep commerce moving,” ICC secretary central John Denton said.

“All measures to ensure the uninterrupted free flow of goods throughout international supply chains must be taken.”

On 15 March 2024 a 40-hour operation by the Indian navy in the Indian Ocean culminated in the capture of 35 Somali pirates and the release of a previously hijacked vessel and its 17 crew.

In early January, a bulk carrier boarded by pirates more than 450 nautical miles off the east coast of Somalia was assisted by an Indian naval vessel and rendered safe along with the ship’s 21 crew members.

And in late January, the Seychelles coast guard assisted a hijacked fishing vessel and its six crew. Three suspected Somali pirates were apprehended in this operation.

IMB director Michael Howlett said the bureau is urging vessel owners and masters to follow all recommended guidelines in the latest version of the Best Management Practices (BMP 5).

“We also commend the actions of the Indian navy and Seychelles coast guard for intercepting hijacked vessels, safeguarding crews and capturing pirates,” he said.

Caution for GoG, Bangladesh and Singapore Straits

Incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are still at a reduced level, IMB said.

Six incidents were reported in the first quarter of 2024 compared to five in the same period of 2023.

The IMB urges continued caution after nine crew were kidnapped from a product tanker on 1 January 2024 around 45 nautical miles south of Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea.

“While we welcome the reduction of incidents, piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea remains a threat,” Mr Howlett said.

“Continued and robust regional and international naval presence to respond to these incidents and to safeguard life at sea is crucial.”

And IMB has noticed an increase in reported low-level opportunistic crimes in Bangladeshi waters in 2024, with seven reported incidents received – six from vessels at anchorage in Chattogram – compared to one report for the whole of 2023.

The Singapore Straits recorded five incidents against four large bulk carriers and a general cargo vessel, which IMB considers low-level opportunistic incidents.

But the threat for crew safety remains high, it said, as five crew were taken hostage in three separate incidents in January.