Maritime Crime: South America

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Maritime crime continues to effect vessels operating in South American waters and much of it is likely to have gone unreported. For the calendar year so far, there have been seven reported robberies at anchor and three boardings in Venezuela. Five robberies in Colombia, two robberies at anchor in Peru, and two incidents of maritime crime in Ecuador along with a robbery at anchor in Guyana have also been recorded.

The criminal activity that takes place across South America is largely opportunistic and does not mirror the pirate action groups that operate off the Niger Delta Region and offshore Somalia. However, it is present within most regional states and can be violent in its nature.

Venezuela has recorded the highest level of maritime crime for the region so far this year, particularly within the ports and anchorages around Puerto La Cruz and Barcelona; recording ten incidents alone this year, in comparison to five incidents recorded in 2016 and one in 2015. The rise in maritime crime is likely linked to the dire economic situation ashore, which Dryad highlighted in late 2016 and is unlikely to improve in the near future. Of particular note this year are three incidents where crew members were assaulted and at least five others injured when crew members (on watch) were tied up whilst the robbery took place. On 24 June, an AB was assaulted by robbers whilst conducting routine security rounds aboard MT Seletar Spirit, whilst all three robberies at anchor that took place in September saw duty crew on routine rounds tied up whilst the incidents took place.

In Colombia, levels of maritime crime have remained at similar levels to previous years, taking place on both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts. There have been three robberies of merchant vessels this year, all of which took place at Cartagena Anchorages. This compares to four robberies at anchor in 2016, three of which occurred in Cartagena and the other in Buenaventura. Locally in Buenaventura there have been two reports of passengers vessels being boarded and robbed by armed local gangs who stole passengers possessions.

Two incidents of maritime crime have been reported in Ecuador this year, the first reports since 2013, although it is likely that many opportunist crimes go unreported. There has been one robbery at Esmeralda port and one boarding in Guayaquil. Elsewhere in Ecuador, there are high levels of domestic maritime crime, namely the smuggling of narcotics, associated violence towards local fisherman by criminal gangs and Ecuadorian-Peruvian fishing disputes.

Nevertheless, levels of maritime crime have improved for some countries in South America. Peru has seen an 81% decrease in maritime crime, particularly in the anchorages in Callao where there were 11 robberies at anchor in 2016. The majority of maritime crime in Callao has previously occurred when ships were anchored or docked in port and assailants climbed up the anchor chain and forced their way into the forecastle store, stealing supplies. This decrease is largely linked to an increase in the security of the port of Callao and the city itself that was placed under a state of emergency for over 12 months from 2015-2016.

It is almost certain that much greater maritime crime takes place across the South America region than is reported, particularly in remote and up-river areas. Conflict between fishermen is not unusual and there are regular attacks and territorial disputes between Peruvian-Ecuadorian and Guyanese-Surinamese fishermen, whilst Venezuela has seen an increase in attacks against fishermen over the last year in waters off northeast Sucre State. The direct targeting of fishermen is often violent with the fishermen thrown overboard or shot before the robbery takes place.

Similarly, the robbery of passenger vessels in areas up river or in estuaries is another common occurrence. Dryad has recorded four robberies and one hijack of such vessels near the port of Santos alone this year. These issues are often compounded by an ineffective coastguard which fails to provide a deterrent because of regional trends of inherent corruption and political apathy.

Dryad’s general advice for vessels in the region is to adopt basic security measures and remove any opportunity for criminality. Mariners should ensure that all upper-deck fixtures are secure, duty watch keepers maintain vigilance on the outboard side and gangway and that any suspicious sightings are immediately reported to local authorities and the IMB. Furthermore, across the region, but particularly in Venezuela TTW, crew members are strongly advised against resistance if targeted by criminal groups.