Piracy

Latest update

This Bulletin was last issued on Friday, 04 January 2013.  

Key Points

  • There are high levels of piracy in coastal areas of many countries around the world. Kidnapping for ransom can also occur. All forms of shipping are attractive targets for pirates, including commercial vessels, pleasure craft (such as yachts) and luxury cruise liners.
  • According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), as of 20 November 2012, worldwide there were 261 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against vessels and a total of 26 vessels hijacked in 2012.
  • While attacks by pirates in the Indian Ocean have decreased, these waters are still dangerous. Pirates have reportedly attacked shipping further than 1,500 nautical miles (2778 km) from the coast of Somalia. Pirate attacks have been reported near the west coast of India, western Maldives, and Madagascar.
  • The rapid growth of the oil and gas industry in has contributed to a sharp increase of piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in 2012.
  • Piracy-related crimes of opportunity, such as unlawful requests for payment for anchorage or petty crime, can occur in remote or isolated anchorages.
  • We advise you to monitor closely our destination-specific travel advisories for areas close to waters through which you intend travelling. For additional information on sea travel, our Travelling by boat page.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
    • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
    • register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency
    • subscribe to this travel bulletin to receive free email updates each time it's re-issued.

The Horn of Africa including the Gulf of Aden and Yemen

We strongly advise Australians to maintain a high level of vigilance and to exercise extreme caution in the Indian Ocean in the area bounded by the following latitude and longitude: 15 north in the Red Sea, 23 north in the Arabian Sea, 78 east and 15 south in the Indian Ocean.

While attacks by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean have fallen to their lowest level since 2009, these waters are still extremely high-risk and all travellers should avoid the area. According to statistics from the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC), in the Gulf of Aden and off the east coast of Somalia as of 20 November 2012, there were 71 incidents of piracy and 13 vessels hijacked, with 212 hostages.

Pirates have reportedly attacked shipping further than 1,500 nautical miles (2778 km) from the coast of Somalia. Pirate attacks have been reported near the west coast of India, western Maldives, and Madagascar.

Examples of piracy off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa include:

  • In March 2011, a Danish family was kidnapped while sailing their yacht between the Maldives and the Red Sea.
  • In February 2011, four U.S. citizens were kidnapped and later killed by Somali pirates.
  • On 12 January 2011, Somali pirates boarded a cargo vessel around 270 nautical miles east of Socotra Island. Six crew members of the cargo vessel were kidnapped.
  • In October 2009, two British nationals were taken hostage by Somali pirates about 60 nautical miles from Mahe in the Seychelles. They were later released.

Incidents of piracy perpetrated by Somali pirates have also occurred in the territorial waters of Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar and Seychelles. The Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa website provides information to mariners in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia such as news, alerts and ship protection measures (requires registration).

Vessels, crew members and passengers hijacked in waters off Somalia have been held for long periods by pirates demanding ransoms. As of 20 November 2012, suspected Somali pirates were holding nine vessels for ransom with 154 crew members as hostages onboard. In addition, 21 kidnapped crew members were being held on land. For more information about kidnapping, see our Kidnapping Threat Worldwide travel bulletin.

The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. If you do decide to travel to an area where there is a particular threat of piracy/kidnapping, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

The rapid growth of the oil and gas industry in the region has contributed to a sharp increase of piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in 2012. Hijackings and cargo theft have become a security concern for coastal West African States. The Gulf of Guinea is the northeastern most part of the tropical Atlantic Ocean between Cape Lopez in Gabon, north and west to Cape Palmas in Liberia. The intersection of the Equator and Prime Meridian (zero degrees latitude and longitude) is in the gulf. According to an October 2012 report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), there were 32 incidents, including five hijackings in 2012, versus 25 in 2011. In Nigeria alone there were 17 reports, compared to six in 2011. Togo reported five incidents including a hijacking, compared to no incidents during the same time last year. Guns were reported in at least 20 of the 32 incidents. At least one crew member was killed and another later died as a result of an attack.

Piracy prone regions

  • Somalia
  • the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and the Arabian sea
  • East Africa, particularly Tanzania and Kenya
  • West Africa, particularly Benin, Nigeria, and more broadly the Gulf of Guinea
  • South America, particularly Peru, Venezuela and Brazil
  • the South China Sea in the vicinity of Anambas, Natuna, Mangkai Islands and Subi Besar area
  • Indonesia, Tanjung Priok – Jakarta/Dumai, Belawan, Taboneo, Muara Jawa waters.
  • Mindanao in the Philippines
  • waters surrounding Bangladesh
  • the Caribbean and Central America, especially in anchorage areas in Port Au Prince, Haiti
  • the Vung Tau area of Vietnam

Piracy-related crimes of opportunity, such as unlawful requests for payment for anchorage or petty crime, can occur in remote or isolated anchorages. In November 2012, 10 armed robbers boarded a tugboat towing a barge enroute from Port Klang to Kuching. They assaulted one crew member, stole crew members personal belongings, cash and vessel’s documents/certificates before escaping. The incident happened around 58 nautical miles South of Pulau Airabu, Anambas Islands, Indonesia.

Other information resources

The IMB runs a global 24-hour Piracy Reporting Centre based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which issues daily reports broadcast to all shipping on the Safety Net service of Inmarsat-C and reports on its website. The services of the centre are free and are available to all ships, irrespective of their flag. The 24-hour Anti-Piracy HELPLINE can be contacted on telephone (60 3) 20310014; facsimile (60 3) 20785769; telex MA34199 IMBPCI; and email imbsecurity@icc-ccs.org.

The IMB recommends the installation of Shiploc, an on-board satellite tracking system that can help locate hijacked vessels. Secure-Ship, a non-lethal, electrifying fence which surrounds the whole ship, is also recommended by the International Maritime Bureau.

The following websites also contain useful information about piracy:

Where to Get Help

You can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact an Australian diplomatic mission, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Whatever the reason you are travelling and however long you'll be overseas, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.