The ongoing months-long turbulence in oceans has been captured in a report the Indian Navy released on Thursday, which stated piracy and armed robbery in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) witnessed a 20 per cent jump in 2023, with 194 incidents recorded last year in comparison to 161 in 2022.

The monthly average incidents also rose from 13 in 2022 to about 16 in 2023, pointed out the report compiled by Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), a regional maritime security centre hosted by the Indian Navy in Gurugram.

Hijacking, kidnapping, illegal boarding, attack, sea robbery, and theft attempted incidents have been put together to compile this data by the IFC-IOR Centre, which has liaison officers from 12 countries including the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Despite the surge in incidents, a positive trend emerged as 78 per cent of reported incidents involved no violence, the IFC-IOR Centre noted. However, the report flagged that isolated instances of violence resulted in severe injuries and death of a person.

According to the report, “while piracy and armed robbery remained suppressed in most regions, South East Asia saw a surge, accounting for 103 incidents. East Africa experienced a significant increase, notably in hijacking of dhows off the coast of Somalia and petty thefts off Mauritius”.

The type of incidents varied with sea theft being the most reported (43 per cent of total incidents) and bulk carriers, tankers, and pleasure crafts being the most targeted vessels. Most incidents occurred at night (83 per cent) and involved small groups of perpetrators.

The Centre also stated the ongoing conflicts, hinting between Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Hamas, and recent developments in the Red Sea, indicating Iran-backed Houthi’s attacks on commercial vessels, coupled with the removal of ‘High Risk Area’ with effect from January 1, 2023, and depleting fishing stocks due to increased illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities are likely to pose challenges in Gulf of Eden. 

Contraband smuggling on rise

Overall, the IFC-IOR centre said it monitored, recorded, and analysed a total of 3,955 incidents across the IOR and adjacent seas. Contraband smuggling, especially narcotics, has also risen, recording an 18 per cent uptick in incidents, that led to 958 seizures. “Narcotics accounted for 31 per cent of incidents while domestic products and fuel smuggling each represented 17 per cent of recorded instances”, the report said. “Major drug seizures in the IOR included large shipments of Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS) such as methamphetamine, cannabinoids, and opioids such as heroin,” read the report.

In this segment, East Africa experienced a notable 70 per cent upswing in reported incidents with drugs topping the list. Conversely, West Asia saw an overall 35 per cent decrease but witnessed a rise in weapon smuggling. South Asia faced a substantial 59 per cent increase, particularly in incidents involving drugs, domestic products, and natural resources, informed the Indian Navy.

South East Asia recorded a 16 per cent rise, with fuel smuggling being pre-dominant. “The trends highlight the need for region-specific interventions, acknowledging the varying dynamics and challenges each region encounters,” the Centre observed.