Durban – Maritime kidnappings have escalated to a 10-year high, according to the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) annual piracy report released on Tuesday.
The report revealed that more crew members were kidnapped at sea in 2016 than in any of the preceding 10 years, despite global piracy reaching its lowest levels since 1998.
The IMB recorded 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on the world's seas.
IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said shipping channels around the world remained under threat from pirates, despite good gains being made in the combatting of piracy.
"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," he said.
"The kidnappings in the Sulu Seas between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines are a particular concern," he added.
Worldwide in 2016, 150 vessels were boarded, 12 vessels were fired upon, seven were hijacked, and 22 attacks were thwarted. The number of hostages fell to 151.
Maritime kidnappings, however, showed a threefold increase from 2015.
Pirates kidnapped 62 people for ransom in 15 separate incidents in 2016. Just over half were captured off West Africa, while 28 were kidnapped from tugs, barges, fishing boats and, more recently, merchant ships around Malaysia and Indonesia.
IMB is urging governments to investigate and identify kidnappers and punish them under their laws.
The Gulf of Guinea remained a kidnap hotspot in 2016 with 43 crew members taken in nine separate incidents. Three vessels were hijacked in the region. There was also a noticeable increase in attacks reported off Nigeria.