Maritime piracy attacks reported worldwide surged 20 percent in 2020.

A few weeks ago, the world’s attention was focused on the Suez Canal, when a large container ship ran aground, holding up traffic on the canal and costing global trade an estimated $6 billion-$10 billion a week. But piracy or armed robbery is another threat in the maritime domain capable of paralysing and affecting maritime trade, and costing millions of dollars every year.

Maritime piracy or armed robbery incidents saw a spike last year. Attacks on ships by pirates/robbers increased by 20 percent (195 incidents) over 2019 (162), according to a report by the International Maritime Bureau of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) released in January 2021. Over the last five years ending 2020, more than 900 such incidents have been reported across the world, data show.

“Any incident of piracy hits confidence in the conduct of international shipping and threatens good order at sea,” Commodore Odakkal Johnson, Director and Head of Research at the Maritime History Society, told. “Maritime trade is made economically difficult by diversionary routes or additional permanent and procedural maritime practices ranging from concertina coils on deck to escorted transits,” he said.

The economic costs of piracy at sea are enormous. It is estimated that Somali pirates extracted around $338 million in ransom between 2005 and 2015, according to a report by the World Bank released in 2017. An earlier report in 2013 estimated a loss of $18 billion a year caused by Somali pirates to the world economy as shippers were forced to alter trading routes and pay more for fuel and insurance premiums.

Piracy during the Covid pandemic

Of the 195 incidents in 2020, 84 percent or 164 were actual attacks while the rest (31) were attempted attacks. Kidnapping/ransom is the most common (135 incidents) type of violence inflicted on the crew and 34 cases of hostage-taking were reported.


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