A security team on a merchant ship exchanged fire with four armed individuals on a small craft after it came suspiciously close to the vessel, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) authority said on Saturday.

UKMTO said the ship was approached by a small craft with four armed persons onboard some 780 nautical miles east of Hafun, Somalia, whilst automatic rifles and a rocket propelled grenade sighted.

The small craft came within 300 meters of the vessel, UKMTO said, adding that the onboard security team fired warning shots and after an exchange of fire the small craft retreated.

The annual piracy and armed robbery report of the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) urges caution for crew safety as the number of crew taken hostage and kidnapped increased from 41 to 73 and from two to 14 in 2022 and 2023 respectively. A further 10 crew were threatened, four injured and one assaulted in 2023.

The IMB annual report recorded 120 incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships in 2023 compared to 115 in 2022.

The 2023 annual report reveals that 105 vessels were boarded, nine attempted attacks, four vessels hijacked and two fired upon.

On 14 December 2023 the report recorded the first successful hijacking of a vessel off the coast of Somalia since 2017.

A handymax bulk carrier was boarded and hijacked by alleged Somali pirates. The incident took place around 700 nautical miles (nm) East of Bosaso in Somalia. Reports also suggest two dhows were subsequently hijacked, a type of vessel with potential use as mother ships for further attacks.

Recently, the marine insurer West of England P&I Club launched “west piracy protection,” to help shipowners manage the evolving threat of piracy in high-risk waters.

The new piracy protection product provides cover for vessels entering a war and piracy ‘breach’ area, such as the Gulf of Aden or the Gulf of Guinea, where there is a heightened risk of vessels being seized.

Specifically, this product provides insurance protection for piracy events where the traditional War policy coverage does not respond adequately to indemnify clients for the typical seizure situations that can take place in these geographic areas.

This includes incidents when ships are sometimes held for just a few hours at a time.