The number of pirate attacks dropped by a third in the first half of 2012, led by a decline in Somali piracy, thanks to international naval efforts and the adoption by shipping lines of best management practices and hardened vessels, the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau said Tuesday in its latest global piracy report.
The IMB warned, however, that these numbers were offset by a growing number of attacks in Africa’s Gulf of Guinea.
Overall, 177 incidents were reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Center in the first six months of 2012, compared to 266 incidents for the same period in 2011.
The report showed that 20 vessels were hijacked worldwide, with a total number of 334 crew members taken hostage. There were a further 80 vessels boarded, 25 vessels fired upon and 52 reported attempted attacks. At least four crew members were killed.
The decrease in the overall number is primarily due to the decline in Somali piracy activity, dropping from 163 incidents in the first six months of 2011 to 69 in 2012. Somali pirates also hijacked fewer vessels, down from 21 to 13. Nonetheless, Somali piracy continues to remain a serious threat.
“Somali pirate attacks cover a vast area, from the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Gulf of Oman to the Arabian Sea and Somali Basin, threatening all shipping routes in the northwest Indian Ocean,” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan.
The report attributed the decline in Somali piracy in part to the preemptive and disruptive counter-piracy tactics employed by naval forces. This includes the disruption of mother vessels and Pirate Action Groups. “The naval actions play an essential role in frustrating the pirates. There is no alternative to their continued presence,” Mukundan said.
The effective deployment of best management practices, ship hardening and, in particular, the increased use of privately contracted armed security personnel also contributed to the falling numbers.
As of June 30, Somali pirates were still holding 11 vessels and 218 crew, 44 of whom were being held ashore in unknown locations and conditions.
The decline in Somali piracy, however, was partly offset by an increase in attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, where 32 incidents, including five hijackings, were reported in 2012, versus 25 in 2011. In Nigeria alone there were 17 reports, compared to six in 2011. Togo reported five incidents including a hijacking, compared to no incidents during the same time last year.
The IMB report emphasized that high levels of violence were also being used against crew members in the Gulf of Guinea. Guns were reported in at least 20 of the 32 incidents. At least one crew member was killed, and another later died as a result of an attack.
In Nigeria, three vessels and 61 crew members were taken hostage. Seven vessels were boarded, and six were fired upon. One attempted attack was reported. Attacks by armed pirates in skiffs were occurring at greater distances from the coast, suggesting the possible use of fishing or other vessels to reach targets. On June 30 alone, three vessels were fired upon, including a tanker and a container vessel within a five-minute period, approximately 135 nautical miles from Port Harcourt.
The increase in pirate activity off Togo has also been attributed to Nigerian pirates. The five reported incidents all occurred in April, culminating with the hijacking of a Panamax tanker.
Attacks elsewhere in the world have mainly been armed robberies. Indonesia accounts for almost 20 percent of the global numbers, with 32 reported incidents, compared to 21 over the same period in 2011. Twenty-eight of the vessels targeted were boarded, including 23 anchored vessels, two berthed and three that were underway. Guns were reported on one occasion. IMB further noted that many other attacks may also have gone unreported.