News & Insights

Piracy and armed robbery in commercial shipping - evaluating the risk to Australian operators

Published 26 July 2018

In 2008 the Australian cruise ship Athena was sailing through the Gulf of Aden when it found itself surrounded by at least 29 small boats, suspected to be Somali pirates. The ship escaped unharmed and made port safely, but another ship – Oceania Cruises’ Nautica – had been attacked in the same waters just a few days before and had shots fired at it by its assailants.

The threat of Somalian piracy was front of mind for both the maritime industry and the general population in the mid-2000s. Even today, travellers and seafarers remain cognizant of the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

But in the ten years since the attempted attacks on M/V Athena and M/V Nautica, the landscape has changed significantly. These days the threat of piracy and hijacking is far more prevalent in the waters of Southeast Asia than it is off the Somali coast.

Key trends in maritime security data

Recent data released by the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) paints an interesting picture of maritime security. Here are the key takeaways

  • The number of attacks is declining. In 2017 a total of 180 attempted and actual attacks on vessels were recorded. That’s the lowest recorded number since 1995, and represents a 30% drop in attacks since 2013.
  • Most attacks occur in Southeast Asia. Of the total 180 recorded attacks, 76 happened in Southeast Asian waters – that’s 42.2% of all recorded attacks
  • Big commercial vessels are prime targets. In 2017, the most commonly attacked vessels were bulk carriers, product tankers and container ships.

The continued decline in the number of attacks on vessels is a welcomed trend, but the International Maritime Bureau warns that “the effects on crew and their safety continues to be a cause for concern.” Many attacks in Southeast Asia are low-intensity crimes of opportunity, but there have been cases of armed robbery and hijacking.


What it means for Australian marine, cargo and logistics companies

The entire global shipping system is exposed to the threat of piracy and robbery, but Australian vessels are especially at risk given the volume of shipping traffic through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

An interactive map of global shipping routes (developed in 2012 by the University College London's Energy Institute) highlights Australia’s reliance on routes throughout Southeast Asia. Speaking to Fairfax Media, Professor Tim Stephens of the University of Sydney said Australia is reliant “in particular on vessels that are navigating through some pretty tricky waters” and that spikes in attacks near Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia are of concern. 

Marine piracy - shipmaster vigilanceCare must be taken, however, to not exaggerate the threat of piracy and robbery at sea in Southeast Asia. As Sam Bateman of the Asia & the Pacific Policy Society points out, a “high level of cooperation” now exists in the Malacca and Singapore straits to counter crime at sea. Air surveillance, coordinated sea patrols and other security measures have been (and remain) successful in deterring and thwarting attacks on vessels. 

How commercial vessels can stay safe in dangerous waters

With more than 99% of Australian international trade carried by sea, the number of ships passing through Southeast Asian (and other) waters is only going to grow.

Here are some ways to marine, cargo and logistics companies can manage risk in dangerous areas

  1. Stay vigilant. The International Maritime Bureau urges all shipmasters to maintain high levels of vigilance when transiting high-risk areas. It broadcasts incidents of piracy and armed robbery to all ships in the IOR and AOR regions, maintains a live Piracy Map and provides Advice to Masters.
  2. Avoid slowing down or anchoring in high-risk areas. Most ships transiting waters in Southeast Asia are not at risk unless they slow down or anchor in places where attacks occur, such as ports and anchorages in Indonesia and Vietnam.
  3. Report all incidents and suspicious vessels. The IMB urges shipmasters and owners to report all actual, attempted and suspected attacks so that relevant authorities can be alerted.The information you provide may help save a crew at risk, so save the number for the 24-hour Maritime Security Hotline.
  4. Seek advice from a specialist maritime insurance broker. All marine, cargo and logistics companies should work with a specialist marine insurance broker to make sure they’re covered for all their risk exposures at sea, in ports and elsewhere. A skilled broker can also provide you with risk management advice. 

Stay vigilant, stay safe and reach out to our specialist marine insurance brokers for tailored risk management advice.

The threat of piracy and armed robbery in Southeast Asian waters is one of the key emerging risks identified in our new report The 5 most challenging emerging risks facing the Australian maritime industry. The report can be downloaded below.

Download your marine risk report


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