Pirate attacks up this year, successful hijackings down – watchdog

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Pirates attacked a record number of ships worldwide in the first nine months of 2011, but are making off with fewer vessels due to better policing by international naval forces, a maritime watchdog said yesterday.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said its reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur recorded 352 attacks on ships, mainly by Somali pirates, from January to the end of September, up from 289 for the same period in 2010.
“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,” IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement. The IMB has monitored piracy worldwide since 1991.

While pirates attempted to hijack 199 ships worldwide in the first nine months of this year, they managed to seize control of only 24 ships compared to 35 in the same period last year.

The IMB said the fall in the number of hijackings was due to better policing and intervention since the start of 2009 by naval forces deployed off the Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia. Somali pirates were behind 56% of the 352 attacks reported this year.

So far this year, pirates have taken 625 people hostage worldwide. They have killed eight people and injured 41.

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, the IMB said.

But hijackings were successful in just 12% of all attempts this year, down from 28% in 2011.
“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 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 ships properties and cargo, and let the vessel free.

In response, Benin has begun joint naval patrols with neighbouring Nigeria, another piracy hot spot. Mukundan said that 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.



Meanwhile, piracy in Asia has improved as incidents of 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.