Piracy attacks on the world’s shipping rose by a third in the first half of this year and became increasingly violent, with pirates using machineguns, grenade launchers and other weapons, a maritime watchdog said in a report released today.
Despite the increase of such attacks off Somalia in the Horn of Africa, where piracy is rampant, and other areas, successful hijackings were down, in large part due to massive patrolling by naval fleets, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said.
“In the last six months, Somali pirates attacked more vessels than ever before and they’re taking higher risks,” IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement.
“This June, for the first time, pirates fired on ships in rough seas in the Indian Ocean during the monsoon season. In the past, they would have stayed away in such difficult conditions. Masters should remain vigilant.”
Attacks on oil and chemical tankers rose by 36 % and were increasingly violent, involving automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade launchers. Whereas five years ago pirates were just as likely to brandish a knife as a gun, this year guns were used in 160 attacks and knives in 35.
Somali pirates were going out in worse conditions than before, including the monsoon season, the IMB said in its latest Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships report.
Worldwide attacks rose to 266 in the first six months of this year compared with 196 in the same period last year.
More than 60 % of attacks were by Somali pirates, who took 361 sailors hostage and kidnapped 13 this year. Worldwide, 495 seafarers were taken hostage. Pirates killed seven people and injured 39. Ninety-nine vessels were boarded, 76 fired upon and 62 thwarted attacks were reported. As of 30 June, Somali pirates were holding 20 vessels and 420 crew, and demanding ransoms of millions of dollars for their release.
The majority of attacks took place in the Arabian Sea. Since 20 May there have been 14 vessels attacked in the Southern Red Sea. “It is necessary that shipboard protection measures are in place as they sail through this area,” said Mukundan.
However, bigger “mother ships” equipped with more sophisticated equipment have allowed pirates to stay at sea longer and strike farther than they were able to do in the past.
Pirate gangs make tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, and their escalating attacks in vital shipping lanes have raised fears that insurance costs could rise and vessels could be diverted. Crude oil tankers sailing in the east and northeast of the Gulf of Aden have been particularly targeted, adding to supply concerns and costs.
A surge in particularly violent and highly organized attacks has hit the coast of West Africa this year, says IMB’s piracy report, listing 12 attacks on tankers off Benin since March, an area where no incidents were reported in 2010. Five vessels were hijacked and forced to sail to unknown locations, where pirates ransacked and stole the vessel’s equipment, and part of their product oil cargoes. Six more tankers were boarded, mainly in violent armed robbery style attacks, and one attempted attack was reported.
In neighbouring Nigeria, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre was informed of three boardings, two vessels being fired upon, and one attempted attack. The crew were beaten and threatened. Ship’s equipment and crew’s personal property were stolen. But IMB says that in reality, the seas around Nigeria are more dangerous than the official reports suggest. The organization is aware of at least 11 other incidents that were not reported to the Piracy Reporting Centre by ships’ masters or owners.
A total of 50 incidents were recorded for Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore Straits and the South China Seas this year. Three tugs were hijacked by armed pirates and 41 vessels were boarded.