Piracy and armed robbery at sea

Advice for British nationals on staying safe when travelling by sea

Piracy and armed robbery at sea

If you’re travelling in your own yacht or boat you should be aware that piracy and armed robbery at sea remains a risk, particularly in the following areas:

  • the Indian Ocean, particularly off the coast of the Horn of Africa/Gulf of Aden
  • Gulf of Guinea in west Africa, including in ports across that region
  • some parts of south east Asia, particularly the Malacca Straits and Singapore Straits, and the Sulu and Celebes Seas

Visit the travel advice page for the particular country you’re going to, or sailing near to, and take a note of useful contact details like the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate and the local emergency services. You should also follow the anti-piracy guidelines (see below) when travelling through areas of piracy-related activity. Further information and maritime piracy reports are available on the following websites:

East Africa and Indian Ocean

The threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden remains significant. Sailing vessels are particularly vulnerable to attack due to their low speed and low freeboard. Reports of armed robbery, indiscriminate shooting and attacks on local fishing dhows in the area also continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that: “all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the High Risk Area (HRA) or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom”.

All mariners who still decide to sail through the High Risk Area in the Gulf of Aden/Indian Ocean should consider their need to travel and consider alternatives eg transporting the vessel by yacht carrier. Those who still choose to sail through the area should follow best management practice and check with the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa) at for up to date advice and guidance on passage round the Horn of Africa by emailing with the subject line ‘Yacht Vessel Movement’.

You should also report regularly to the UKMTO; Telephone: +971 505 523 215, giving your location, course and speed, and plan your route carefully to avoid putting yourself in unnecessary danger.

West Africa

Piracy and armed robbery at sea remains a threat off the western coast of Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea. Most attacks in the region take place off the coast of Nigeria’s Niger Delta region although there have also been attacks off the coasts of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Togo. The proportion of these incidents occurring further than 50 nautical miles from shore increased in 2016, with a few occurring around 110 nautical miles from the coast. Petty theft in ports and at anchorages across the region is also common. Kidnap of seafarers for ransom is the favoured approach for pirate/armed robbery groups operating off Nigeria. Many attacks end up with crew members injured or killed.

Mariners transiting in or around this area should register with Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade (MDAT-GOG), operated by the French Navy and the Royal Navy, for warnings and information on attacks in the Gulf of Guinea region. All vessels entering MDAT-GOG’s Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA) are encouraged to report to it by email: or tel: +33(0)2 98 22 88 88.

South east Asia

Piracy and armed robbery in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore region generally involve the theft of personal property in ports and anchorages and sometimes the hijacking of ships for the purpose of cargo theft.

Commercial shipping companies have been advised to adopt a heightened vigilance when navigating the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Most maritime incidents occur in the Sulu Sea in the area between Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago, Palawan and Sabah (Malaysia). The Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combatting Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) advises all ships to re-route from the area where possible.

If you’re transiting this area you should refer to Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC)’s website for updates on incidents and trends.

Anti-piracy guidelines

  • be vigilant – be wary of any small craft that appears to be going at the same speed as your own on a parallel or following course
  • identify a secure area on the yacht which attackers would have difficulty penetrating and retreat to this if attacked
  • hide a VHF transceiver somewhere on board – radios are often destroyed by pirates to prevent early alarms being raised
  • sound the alarm or fire a flare if attackers approach
  • if the attackers board your vessel, complying with their demands is usually the safest course of action
  • if an attack occurs use the following format for a distress message:
    • vessel’s name and call ‘Mayday’ ‘piracy attack’
    • vessel’s position (and time and position of UTC)
    • nature of the event.

If you’re attacked, report the incident to the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate, the relevant naval authorities and reporting centre, the relevant law enforcement authorities and the IMB Piracy Reporting Office in Kuala Lumpur.


It’s not advisable to carry firearms. If you do, the skipper must make sure they’re allowed by the flag state and host country. Penalties for the use of firearms can be severe in some countries.

Useful contacts


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Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 19 April 2017 + show all updates
  1. Updated information

  2. Revised guidance on sea piracy

  3. typos, formatting

  4. First published.