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International Maritime Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea

Maritime crime poses potential hazards throughout the world. Two notable sub-sets of maritime crime are armed robbery at sea, occurring within a nation’s territorial waters, and piracy, which takes places in international waters. Both have occurred throughout the world with notable recent concentrations in the waters off Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, South America, and the Gulf of Guinea.  U.S. citizens considering travel by sea should always exercise caution, especially when near and within areas with recent incidents of maritime crime.

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Africa and Middle East

Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean

Hijackings in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean tend to occur primarily off the coast of Somalia. In some instances attacks have occurred as far as 500 nautical miles from Somalia’s coast. Most of the attacks in the region have been directed against commercial cargo vessels but pirates have also attacked private yachts and killed people onboard, including U.S. citizens.

Attacks against cruise ships are rare but do occur. The Department of State is aware of two such attacks and one attempt in 2008.

The past 18 months have been marked by a significant downturn in the number of successful hijackings off the Horn of Africa. However, pirates continue to attempt hijackings on a regular basis and the threat remains throughout the area.

U.S. citizens transiting the Gulf of Aden should consult with their cruise ship company regarding precautions that will be taken to avoid hijacking incidents. TheDepartment of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD) provides detailed piracy countermeasures for vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden on theirMaritime Administration Advisories page. MARAD recommends that vessels add additional security, transit at the highest practicable speed, and change course repeatedly if under attack and unable to outrun the pirate vessel.

Gulf of Guinea

Maritime incidents in the Gulf of Guinea include hijackings for cargo theft, kidnappings for ransom, and robbery of crew passengers’, and ship’s properties. Attacks continue to happen inside territorial seas with some occurring outside 12 nautical miles. In 2013, vessels were reported hijacked as far west as Cote d’Ivoire and as far south as Gabon. However, the overall incidents remain very difficult to gauge because, as all observers agree, attacks remain significantly underreported.

In October 2013, two U.S. Citizens were kidnapped from a vessel off the coast of the Niger Delta.

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South America

Venezuela

Incidents of piracy and robbery at sea have occurred off the coast of Venezuela.In recent years, a U.S. citizen on a private vessel was severely beaten by robbers who boarded the vessel, and another U.S. citizen sailor was attacked with a machete. U.S. citizens sailing yachts in the region are advised to exercise a heightened level of caution in/near Venezuelan waters.

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Asia and Pacific

Southeast Asia

The Strait of Malacca (SOM), situated between Indonesia and Malaysia, was long considered the world's most dangerous waters for maritime crime. Criminal activity on the water in the region, however, has declined significantly since 2005 due to increased military patrols and vessel security. Pirate attacks in Indonesia are typically attacks aimed at thefts against the vessels and differ from the more serious, violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and near Somalia. Indonesian Government and maritime observers in Indonesia have noted that pirate attacks in Indonesia are typically small-scale robberies, sometimes with the collusion of the ship’s crew, as opposed to large-scale vessel seizures.

Before You Go

Read the Worldwide Caution, Country Information, and Travel Warnings or Travel Alerts for all countries that you plan to visit. When travelling by sea, either privately or by commercial shipping, review the information available from the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre  and the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration Advisories .

  • If you are going to live or travel overseas, please take the time to tell us about your trip by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program(STEP). If you enroll, we can keep you up-to-date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date. It is important during enrollment or updating of information to include your current phone number and current email address where you can be reached in case of emergency.

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security. For additional information, please refer to While Abroad.

  • U.S. Government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture. In those instances, U.S. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

As the Department of State continues to develop information on any potential security threats to U.S. citizens overseas, itshares credible threat information through this site.. In addition to information on the Internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, outside the U.S. and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday, Eastern Time (except U.S. federal holidays).


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