Kidnappings At Sea Rise to 10-Year High, Maritime Watchdog Warns

Maritime patrol
South Korean coastguard troops during a hijacking scenario involving a merchant vessel during an Indo-Korea joint coastguard exercise off the coast of Chennai, Bay of Bengal, June 10, 2016. Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty

The number of kidnappings at sea rose to a 10-year high in 2016, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said Tuesday, warning that the waters off the Philippines were becoming an increasing danger to seafarers.

The global maritime body said kidnapping more than doubled in 2016. In total, 62 people were kidnapped globally in 2016, up from 19 in 2015 and nine in 2014.

It warned that the Sulu Sea located between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines posed an increasingly dangerous threat to vessels.

"The kidnapping of crew from ocean-going merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea and their transfer to the southern Philippines represents a notable escalation in attacks," the IMB said in a report.

While kidnappings rise, sea piracy continues to fall as security measures on vessels improve and national and regional authorities better police criminals at sea.

The height of piracy in 2011 and 2012 saw Somali pirates hijack dozens of vessels, garnering ransoms worth millions of dollars.

But, for pirates, those heady days are over as companies are increasingly hiring private security personnel to man their vessels, and international naval patrols have deterred piracy off the coast of East Africa.

As well as West Africa and Asia more generally, piracy remains a threat off the coast of the southwest Philippine island of Mindanao. On Tuesday, unidentified militants shot dead eight local fisherman off the southern Philippine coast, the Philippine military said, basing its information on the account of a survivor of the attack.

A Philippine rebel group known as Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), has boarded several vessels in the past years, kidnapping dozens of hostages for ransom.

While the group is fighting for an independent Islamist state in the Philippines, it is also deeply involved in criminal activities to fund its operations and line its pockets.