Piracy Attacks at Record Levels But Hijackings Decline

October 18, 2011

As world piracy hits a new high, more ships are escaping Somali pirates, according to a new report.

Piracy on the world’s seas has risen to record levels, with Somali pirates behind 56 percent of the 352 attacks reported this year, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in its latest global piracy report. Meanwhile, more Somali hijack attempts are being thwarted by strengthened anti-piracy measures.

“Figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea in the past nine months are higher than we’ve ever recorded in the same period of any past year,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director of IMB, whose Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) has monitored piracy worldwide since 1991.

IMB is a division of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Demanding millions of dollars in ransom for captured ships and their crews, Somali pirates are intensifying operations not just off their own coastline, but further afield in the Red Sea, particularly during the monsoon season in the wider Indian Ocean. With unprecedented boldness, this August pirates also boarded and hijacked a chemical tanker at anchor in an Omani port, under the protection of coast state security.

But although Somali pirates are initiating more attacks – 199 this year, up from 126 for the first nine months of 2010 – they are managing to hijack fewer vessels. Only 24 vessels were hijacked this year compared with 35 for the same period in 2010. Hijackings were successful in just 12 percent of all attempts this year, down from 28 percent in 2011.

Naval Action

IMB credits this reduction in hijackings to policing and interventions by international naval forces, correct application of the industry’s latest best management practice – including the careful consideration of the crews’ retreat to a citadel – and other onboard security measures.

“Somali pirates are finding it harder to hijack ships and get the ransom they ask for. The navies deserve to be complimented on their excellent work: they are a vital force in deterring and disrupting pirate activity,” said Mukundan. “The number of anti-piracy naval units must be maintained or increased.”

So far this year, pirates have taken 625 people hostage worldwide. They have killed eight people and injured 41. Pirates are often heavily armed, using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

New Hotspot

The West African coast off Benin is seeing a surge in violent piracy, with 19 attacks leading to eight tanker hijackings this year, up from zero incidents in 2010. A pattern has emerged where armed pirates board and hijack the ship – sometimes injuring crew – then force the Masters to sail to an unknown location where they steal the ship’s properties and cargo, and let the vessel free.

In response, Benin has begun joint naval patrols with neighboring Nigeria, another piracy hot spot.

“Cooperation between the Nigeria and Benin navies to curb piracy is a positive step. However the real deterrent will be the capture and punishment of these criminals under law,” Mukundan said.

Piracy and armed robberies in Asian waters, including the Indian subcontinent, are down from 106 in the first three quarters of 2010 to 87 in the same period this year.

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