By Libby George

LAGOS, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Kidnappings by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea hit a record in 2020, with well-armed and violent gangs defying regional navies and marauding further out to sea, a report from the International Maritime Bureau said on Wednesday.

Pirates in the West African region kidnapped 130 seafarers in 22 separate incidents, accounting for all but five of those seized worldwide last year. The previous record, in 2019, was 121.

The IMB’s annual piracy report said that overall armed robbery and piracy incidents rose to 195 last year, up from 162 in 2019, an increase it attributed to attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and armed robbery in the Singapore Straits.

“The latest statistics confirm the increased capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea with more and more attacks taking place further from the coast,” said IMB director Michael Howlett.

“Despite prompt action by navies in the region, there remains an urgent need to address this crime,” he added.

The Gulf covers 2.3 million sq km (888,000 sq m) and borders more than a dozen countries, but experts say most of the pirates operate out of Nigeria’s delta region.

Though the region produces most of the oil from Nigeria, Africa’s largest crude exporter, its economy is underdeveloped and there are limited jobs for local people. (Reporting by Libby George; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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