Help for British nationals overseas – guidance

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
  • Some parts of south east Asia, particularly the Malacca Straits

Visit the relevant country’s 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 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

While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery 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 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 on the west coast of Africa, particularly the Gulf of Guinea. Most attacks in the region take place in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region although there have also been attacks off the coasts of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Togo. Unlike pirates along Somalia’s coast, who are often only after ransom, pirates in West Africa also steal goods, particularly oil. Many attacks end up with crew members injured or killed.

Mariners transiting in or around this area should consult the West Africa Regional Maritime Trade Information Sharing centre (MTISC) for the latest information in the Gulf of Guinea region.

South east Asia

Piracy and armed robbery in the south east Asia region generally involve the theft of personal property and hijacking ships for the purpose of cargo theft. In recent years there’s been a general increase in the number of boardings involving all types of ship while underway and at certain ports and anchorages in south east Asia.

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, 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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