Dramatic increase in piracy and armed robbery

Maritime Safety Committee – 74th session: 30 May – 8 June 2001

IMO meeting encourages regional agreements on anti-piracy measures

The number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to the IMO during 2000 was up by more than 50 per cent over the equivalent figure for 1999, the Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee was told last week.

The Committee noted with concern that the number of incidents had risen to 471, representing an increase of 162 in number or 52 percentage points over the figure for 1999; and that the total number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to have occurred from 1984 to the end of May 2001, was 2,309.  Although the Committee welcomed the information that, during 2000, the number of incidents reported had decreased from 4 to 2 in the Mediterranean Sea and from 36 to 33 in West Africa, it was deeply concerned to note that, over the same period, the number of incidents reported had increased from 37 to 112 in the Malacca Strait, from 136 to 140 in the South China Sea, from 51 to 109 in the Indian Ocean, from 16 to 29 in East Africa and from 29 to 41 in South America and the Caribbean over the 1999 figures.

Most of the attacks worldwide were reported to have occurred in coastal States' concerned territorial waters while the ships were at anchor or berthed.  The Committee was extremely concerned that, during the same period, the crews of the ships involved in the reported incidents had been violently attacked by groups of five to ten persons carrying knives or guns as a result of which seventy-two crew members had been killed, one hundred and twenty-nine had been wounded and five had been reported missing; and that, in addition, one ship had been destroyed, two ships had been hijacked, three ships had gone missing and on three occasions the attackers had used explosive devices. 

The Committee recognized that the maritime community could no longer tolerate this situation and the serious repercussions it has on the safety of passengers and crews and therefore, once again, invited all Governments (of flag, port and coastal States) and the industry to intensify their efforts to eradicate these unlawful acts.

The delegation of the Philippines noted that the statistics on piracy had greatly assisted in focussing on areas where greater co-ordination was needed in the campaign against piracy, and cited the assistance of the International Maritime Bureau in sending quickly information to the Philippine Coast Guard regarding the pirate attack on the ship Inabukwa that led to the speedy recovery of the ship and the apprehension of the pirates.  They, therefore, urged that similar measures be taken to inform concerned police authorities on pirate attacks, since the intent to commit piracy always originated ashore and, therefore, the coastal State concerned would have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute this crime.  In pursuing the proposal for a regional agreement, coastal States should have the appropriate piracy legislation, including national laws, in place to enable the full exercise of the sovereign right of States to prosecute crime occurring within their shores or territory.

The Committee approved a draft Assembly resolution on the Code of Practice for the Investigation of the Crimes of Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships for submission to the twenty-second session of the Assembly in November of this year, for adoption.

Anti-piracy project

The Committee received a report on the second phase of the IMO anti-piracy project to evaluate and assess the situation in piracy-infested areas of the world. The new phase has comprised  missions to Jakarta, Indonesia and a regional meeting held in Singapore during March 2001.  Representatives were invited from countries which either were experiencing extensive piracy/armed robbery activities in waters off their coasts; or which could play a substantial role in addressing the problem by virtue of their strategic location vis-ŕ-vis the most affected areas stretching from the South China Sea to the Malacca Strait to the Eastern Indian Ocean; or which had a genuine interest in seeing the problem effectively addressed because of the large number of ships under their national flag using the waters concerned.

With respect to the Singapore Meeting, the Committee noted the perceived lack of adequate regional co-operation in, and co-ordination of, anti-piracy activities among countries in the region, in the light of the sub-regional/regional co-ordination and co-operation discussions which had taken place at previous IMO regional seminars and workshops in Singapore (1999) and Mumbai (2000) and the two 2000 Tokyo Conferences.  However, the Committee also heard that IMO Secretary-General William O’Neil  had communicated with all the countries that had sent representatives to the Singapore Meeting inviting them to participate, at an appropriate time, in a meeting to consider concluding a regional agreement on anti-piracy measures.  The Committee encouraged the countries concerned to respond promptly and positively to the Secretary-General’s invitation.

United Nations involvement

The Committee was informed that the United Nations Secretariat had begun an ‘open-ended’ Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS) to consider the issue of maritime piracy with the prospect of drafting appropriate text for submission to the UN General Assembly.  A meeting of UNICPOLOS, which took place in New York from 7 to 11 May 2001, discussed two specific questions with regard to maritime piracy: first, whether there was adequate action at regional level to ensure co-ordination and co-operation among relevant authorities and law enforcement agencies; and  second, how the United Nations could assist States in enacting the necessary legislation so that offenders are punished; and in the establishment of law enforcement capabilities. 

Among the conclusions of the UNICPOLOS meeting were that business sector bodies, such as chambers of shipping and maritime insurance agencies, and trade unions can play a useful role in supporting efforts by IMO in combating piracy and armed robbery at sea. It was proposed that the IMO be invited to consider requiring, under the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping of Seafarers, that seafarers receive training on precautions and responses to incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea.

Furthermore, Governments should ensure that their procedures for registering ships guard against fraudulent registrations, can give prompt and accurate responses about the details of ships which may be involved in incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea, and record details of such involvement.  It is suggested that the IMO be invited to quickly complete its work on guidance on how this should be done.  The work of IMO to require ships to be fitted with automatic identification systems was welcomed and any further relevant work encouraged.

UNICPOLOS recognized that effective responses to incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea must be based on preventive measures, measures for reporting incidents, and enforcement, including the training of enforcement personnel and the provision of enforcement vessels and equipment, and that the ability of States to make such effective responses is substantially enhanced when regional cooperation arrangements are in place.  It said that the aim should be the creation of a network of contacts between the public authorities concerned, based on mutual trust and assistance, the fostering of common approaches to enforcement and capacity-building between States as to enforcement techniques, and investigation and prosecution of offences.  Such regional cooperation arrangements may, in suitable cases, be strengthened by the conclusion of formal agreements.  It was suggested that the UN General Assembly welcome the initiatives of IMO and individual Governments to this effect.

The Committee requested the Secretariat to closely follow developments at the United Nations concerning piracy and armed robbery against ships and to report to MSC 75 accordingly.



Piracy Information


The Maritime Safety Committee is the highest technical body of the Organization. Delegates from all 158 member States may attend. The main function of the MSC is to consider any matter within the scope of the Organization that directly affects maritime safety. It has the power to adopt amendments to conventions, such as the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), Collision Regulations, Load Lines etc. It is assisted in its work by nine sub-committees which are also open to all Member States.  They deal with the following subjects: Bulk Liquids and Gases; Carriage of Dangerous Goods; Solid Cargoes and Containers; Fire Protection; Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue; Safety of Navigation; Ship Design and Equipment; Stability and Load Lines and Fishing Vessel Safety; Standards of Training and Watchkeeping and Flag State Implementation.