Attacks on ships by Somali pirates in the sea lanes off the Horn of Africa have fallen to their lowest levels since 2009, but are on the rise in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea and Indonesia, the International Maritime Bureau said Monday.
Worldwide this year, pirates have killed at least six crewmembers and taken 448 seafarers hostage. The IMB Piracy Reporting Center recorded that 125 vessels were boarded, 24 hijacked and 26 fired upon. In addition, 58 attempted attacks were reported.
The drop in Somali piracy has brought global figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea down to 233 incidents this year — the lowest third quarter total since 2008. In the first nine months of 2012, there were 70 Somali attacks, compared with 199 for the corresponding period in 2011. From July to September, just one ship reported an attempted attack by Somali pirates, compared with 36 incidents in the same three months last year.
The IMB said policing and interventions by international navies are deterring pirates, along with ships’ employment of “Best Management Practice” including the use of armed guards and other onboard security measures. EU naval forces struck at the heart of Somali piracy in May when they airlifted troops by helicopter to destroy five of the pirates’ fast attack craft in their bases near the Port of Haradhere.
“It’s good news that hijackings are down, but there can be no room for complacency: These waters are still extremely high-risk, and the naval presence must be maintained,” said Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB, a membership organization that has monitored world piracy since 1991.
As of Sept. 30, suspected Somali pirates were holding 11 vessels for ransom with 167 crewmembers as hostages onboard. In addition, 21 kidnapped crewmembers are being held on land. The IMB said more than 20 hostages have been held for more than 30 months.
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is becoming increasingly dangerous (34 incidents from January to September 2012, up from 30 last year) and has pushed westward from Benin to neighboring Togo.
The IMB said attacks are often violent, planned and aimed at stealing refined oil products that can be easily sold on the open market. To cover their tracks once the vessel is hijacked, pirates damage the communications equipment and at times even the navigation equipment.
There were more attacks off Togo this year than in the previous five years combined, with three vessels hijacked, two boarded and six reporting attempted attacks. Off Benin, one ship was hijacked and one boarded. Nigeria accounted for 21 attacks, with nine vessels boarded, four hijacked, seven fired upon and one attempted attack.
Not all navies in the Gulf of Guinea have the resources to fight piracy far out at sea, so criminal gangs shift to other areas. The Nigerian navy must be commended, however, on its reactions to a number of incidents where their presence was instrumental in rescuing vessels, Capt. Mukundan said.
There were 51 incidents in Indonesia waters in the first nine months of 2012, up from an annual 2011 total of 46. Attacks tended to be opportunistic and mainly carried out onboard vessels at anchor. Vessels were boarded in 46 of the 51 reports, which IMB highlights as a cause for concern.
Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, ships have been hijacked this year in the Malacca Straits, South China Seas and around Malaysia. IMB warned that these waters are still not entirely free of piracy or armed robbery and vessels should remain vigilant and alert.
Pirates plundered $16,387 worth of specialized salvage equipment that had been on board a barge as it sailed through the Malacca Straits earlier this month on its way from Singapore to Tauranga, where it was to be used in the salvage of the container ship Rena, which sank off the coast of New Zealand.