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10-year high for maritime kidnappings

02:30 AM January 11, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR—The number of maritime kidnappings hit a 10-year high in 2016, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said on Tuesday.

While the overall number of pirate attacks has declined in recent years, the IMB said 62 people worldwide were kidnapped for ransom at sea last year compared with only 19 in 2015 and nine in 2014.

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“The kidnapping of crew from ocean-going merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea and their transfer to the southern Philippines represents a notable escalation in attacks,” the IMB said in a report.

Avoid Sulu Sea

It urged shipowners to avoid the Sulu Sea, which lies between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines, by routing ships to the west of Borneo island.

FEATURED STORIES

In a string of incidents in the Sulu Sea last year, groups of armed men said to be either from or linked to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group ambushed ships and seized crew for ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf group is based on remote and mountainous southern Philippine islands.

Their leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) jihadi group in Iraq and Syria, but analysts say they are more focused on lucrative kidnappings.

Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Center, said groups linked to terrorists were carrying out the kidnappings, particularly off West Africa and in the Sulu Sea.

Attacks fall

Despite the rise in kidnappings, the number of overall pirate attacks continued to fall due to better policing and ships taking more precautions.

A total of 191 cases of piracy on the high seas were recorded in 2016 compared with 246 in 2015.

World piracy has been on the decline since 2012 after international naval patrols were launched off East Africa in response to a spate of violent assaults by Somali-based pirates and others.

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The number of cases has also plummeted off Indonesia thanks to more efficient patrols.

“The continued fall in piracy is good news but certain shipping routes remain dangerous, and the escalation of crew kidnapping is a worrying trend in some emerging areas,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director of IMB.

Kidnap hot spots

In addition to the Sulu Sea, the Gulf of Guinea was a kidnap hot spot, with 34 crew taken in nine incidents last year.

The number of all pirate attacks off Nigeria rose from 14 in 2015 to 36 last year.

Peru, which had a clean sheet in 2015, saw 11 pirate incidents last year, 10 of them at its main port of Callao. —AFP

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TAGS: International Maritime Bureau, maritime kidnappings, Philippine news updates
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