International Maritime Piracy



Piracy at sea is a worldwide phenomenon which has affected not only the coasts of Africa, but also Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, and Venezuela. American citizens considering travel by sea should exercise caution when near and within these coastal areas.  


Gulf of Aden

The number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden has risen significantly.  Hijackings in the Gulf of Aden tend to occur primarily off the coast of Somalia.  In some instances attacks have occurred as far as 1,000 nautical miles out in international waters.  Most of the attacks in the Gulf of Aden have been directed against cargo vessels.

U.S. citizens considering sea travel in Sudan's coastal waters should exercise caution as there have been incidents of armed attacks and robberies by unknown groups in recent years, including one involving U.S. vessels. Exercise extreme caution, as these groups are considered armed and dangerous. When transiting in and around the Horn of Africa and/or in the Red Sea near Yemen, vessels should convoy in groups and maintain good communications contact at all times. Marine channels 13 and 16 VHF-FM are international call-up and emergency channels, and are commonly monitored by ships at sea. 2182 Mhz is the HF international call-up and emergency channel. Wherever possible, travel in trafficked sea-lanes, and avoid loitering in or transiting isolated or remote areas. In case of emergency, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In the event of an attack, consider activating Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons. 

The United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) has advised that elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of maritime attacks being conducted by extremist to vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.

MARAD recommends vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds should be especially vigilant, and report suspicious activity.  U.S. flag vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report such suspicious activity or any hostile or potentially hostile action to COMUSNAVCENT battlewatch captain at phone number 011-973-1785-3879.  All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at the following toll free telephone: 1-800-424-8802, direct telephone 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477.  The complete advisory is available on the MARAD website at

Attacks against cruise ships are rare but do occur.  The Department of State is aware of two such attacks and one attempt in 2008.  There have also been several attacks against private vessels such as yachts.  The Department is unaware of any injuries or fatalities involving American citizens resulting from these attacks.

Recent incidents in the region include an attack on Oceania Cruises’ premium cruise ship, the Nautica, in the Maritime Safety Protection Area in the Gulf of Aden; an attempted attack on Transocean Tour’s cruise ship MS Astor in the Gulf of Oman; the hijacking of a 50-foot yacht resulting in the kidnapping of the two French citizens aboard; and the seizure of a French luxury yacht and its 30 crew members.

Americans transiting the Gulf of Aden should consult with their cruise ship company regarding precautions that will be taken to avoid hijacking incidents.  The Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD), at, provides detailed piracy countermeasures for vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden at  MARAD recommends that vessels add additional security, transit at the highest practicable speed, and change course repeatedly if under attack and unable to outrun the pirate vessel.



Incidents of piracy off the coast of Venezuela are a serious concern.  Violent attacks on private vessels over recent years include the severe beating of an American citizen, the fatal shooting of an Italian citizen, and a machete attack on a U.S. citizen.  A November 2008 attack resulted in the death of one American citizen and injury to another when pirates boarded their private boat. 

U.S. citizen sailing yachts in the region have been advised to exercise a heightened level of caution in Venezuelan waters and to consult the U.S. Coast Guard web site at for additional information on sailing in Venezuela.


Straits of Malacca

The Straits of Malacca (SOM), situated between Indonesia and Malaysia, was long considered to be the world’s most dangerous waters for pirate attacks.   Pirate activity in the region, however, has declined significantly since 2005 due to increased military patrols and vessel security.  The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported 25 pirate attacks in the Straits of Malacca in 2004, 10 in 2005, and only two through the third quarter of 2008.  Fourth quarter statistics are not yet available.


Although the waters off Tioman Island, located on the east coast of Malaysia, are not historically known for piracy, there were four attacks in 2008.  The IMB issued an alert to all ships transiting the South China Sea off Tioman Island after pirates armed with guns and machetes robbed three vessels and hijacked a tugboat and barge.  Ships have been advised to maintain a strict watch in this area.


Review the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information, and Travel Warnings or Travel Alerts for all countries that you plan to visit.  When travelling by sea, either privately or by commercial shipping, review the information available from the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre and the MARAD piracy countermeasures.

  1. U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad are encouraged to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to obtain updated information on travel and security.   American citizens without Internet access may sign up directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By enrolling, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

    U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security.  For additional information, please refer to A Safe Trip Abroad .
  2. U.S. Government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert.  These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture.  In those instances, U.S. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens.  Americans abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

As the Department continues to develop information on any potential security threats to U.S. citizens overseas, it shares credible threat information through its Consular Information Program documents, available on the Internet at In addition to information on the Internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, outside the U.S. and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday, Eastern Time (except U.S. federal holidays).

Worldwide Caution

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