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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 sea, and piracy, which takes places in waters beyond the territorial sea.  There have been recent concentrations of armed robbery and piracy in the waters off Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, the Caribbean, 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

Vessels in the region of the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden, including near the island of Socotra, should operate under a heightened state of alert as increasing tensions in the region escalate the potential for direct or collateral damage to vessels transiting the region.  Piracy in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean remains a threat. Hundreds of documented pirate attacks have occurred in these waters. The U.S. Maritime Advisories (Alerts) on the Maritime Security Communications with Industry (MSCI) portal hosted by MarAd advises that elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of maritime attacks being conducted by extremists to vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.

MARAD recommends vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds, should be especially vigilant and report suspicious activity. U.S. flag vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area should report such suspicious activity or any hostile or potentially hostile action to:

  • COMUSNAVCENT

Battle-watch captain at +-973-1785-3879

  • U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center

Tel:  1-800-424-8802 or 202-267-2675, or

TDD:  202-267-4477.

For further information, see the U.S. Maritime Advisory on vessels transiting high risk waters .

U.S. citizens transiting the Gulf of Aden should consult with their cruise ship company about precautions to taken to avoid [hijacking] incidents. U.S. Maritime Advisory 2018-002, 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

Piracy/Armed Robbery/Kidnapping for Ransom (KFR) continues to serve as a significant threat to U.S. flagged operators with vessels transiting or operating in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).

Almost 100 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea occurred in the GoG region in 2017. Kidnappings for ransom, attacks, and boardings by pirates/robbers attempting to steal valuables from the ships and crews are the most common types of incidents. U.S. flagged operators with ships operating in or through the GoG Voluntary Reporting Area designated on Maritime Security Chart Q6114 should transit with extreme caution and vigilance.

Most KFR operations in the GoG occur predominately around the Niger Delta, targeting vessels – such as tankers, tugs, offshore supply vessels, and cargo vessels – due to their high value foreign crewmembers. Pirates have used motherships to support operations up to 150 nautical miles offshore.  Pirates/armed KFR groups have been known to fire upon targeted vessels before attempting to board them. KFR groups generally kidnap two to six high value crewmembers, to include the master, chief engineer, and any Western crewmembers. In the past, kidnapped crewmembers have sustained injuries. KFR groups normally take kidnapped crewmembers ashore in the Niger Delta region and demand ransom payments in exchange for the crewmember’s safe return. See U.S. Maritime Advisory 2018-004 for more info.

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Caribbean

Incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea have occurred off the coast of Venezuela, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.  Recent political and social tensions in Venezuela drive further instability that could result in increased acts of maritime crime.  U.S. citizens sailing yachts in the region should exercise heightened caution in/near Venezuelan waters.  Incidents have also occurred off the coast of Brazil.

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Southeast Asia

The Strait of Malacca (SOM), situated between Indonesia and Malaysia, was long considered the world's most dangerous waters for maritime crime. Piracy and armed robbery incidents continue to occur in the Strait of Malacca and Southeast Asia. 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.

During 2017, there have been at least 15 reported boardings, attacks, or kidnappings in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. All five kidnapping incidents were reportedly linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a violent Islamic separatist group operating in the southern Philippines. See specific case details at Worldwide Threat to Shipping and Piracy Analysis and Warnings, from the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Before You Go

Before You Go – Traveler’s Checklist

Get Informed: Read our Worldwide Caution, Country Information, and Alerts and Travel Advisories for all countries that you plan to visit. When traveling by sea, either privately or by commercial shipping, review information from the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, Office of Naval Intelligence, and U. S. Maritime Advisories.

U.S. citizens should maintain a high level of vigilance when abroad, be aware of local events, and take appropriate steps to bolster their personal security. Carry the number of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in case of emergency.

Get Required Documents: Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months while you are traveling and has at least two or more blank pages. If you need a new passport or are renewing, apply several weeks in advance and allow extra time if you need to get visas from other countries before you visit. You may also need a letter from your doctor if you bring prescription medication. Check with the embassy of your destination to for restrictions and documentation.

Get Enrolled: If you are going to live or travel overseas, enroll the details of your trip in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important safety and security updates. It will also help us reach you in an emergency. Be sure to keep your contact details in STEP up to date if they change.

Get Insured:  Plan for the unexpected. Make sure you have health insurance that covers you abroad and evacuation insurance in case of emergency.  Consider buying supplemental insurance to cover any gaps.

Last Updated: April 25, 2018