Pirates attacks up 36% in first half of 2011
There were 266 incidents of pirate attacks on vessels around the world in the first half of 2011, up 36 percent from 196 attacks during the same period in 2010, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center.
But the number of successful hijackings in the hotspot off the Horn of Africa declined 22 percent from 27 to 21, IMB said.
More than 60 percent of the attacks were by Somali pirates and most of the attacks were in the Arabian Sea, the IMB said. As of the end of June, pirates were holding 20 vessels and 420 crewmembers for ransom.
'In the last six months, Somali pirates attacked more vessels than ever before and they're taking higher risks,' said IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan, 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.'
Practical security steps taken by ship operators to reduce their vulnerability and action by naval forces to disrupt pirate activity contributed to the decline in hijackings, the IMB said.
Although the absolute number of ships commandeered by pirates decreased in the past six months, the value of the targets has increased as pirates increasingly went after large, full-laden oil tankers leaving the Persian Gulf. That has translated into higher ransoms, including recent payments by ship owners of $9.5 million and $13.5 million to recover their vessels and crews.
Pirates are operating more on the edges of the Gulf of Aden, where international naval patrols are concentrated. In addition to the Arabian Sea, pirates have relocated close to the coast of India and recently ramped up activity in the southern Red Sea, which spills into the Gulf of Aden along the coast of Yemen.
Since May 20 there have been 14 vessels attacked in the southern Red Sea, IMB reported.
The arm of the International Chamber of Commerce said Somali pirates took 361 sailors hostage and kidnapped 13 in the first six months of 2011. 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.
Officials from dozens of countries met at the United Nations in New York this week to discuss further options for addressing the lawlessness in Somalia that enables pirates to flourish, judicial efforts to incarcerate pirates and military efforts to stop them at sea.
A surge in particularly violent and highly organized attacks has hit the coast of West Africa this year, IMB said. It listed 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 neighboring Nigeria, the IMB Piracy Reporting Center 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 effects were stolen. But IMB said 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 center by ships' masters or owners.
Overall, 50 incidents were recorded for Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore Straits and the South China Seas in the first two quarters of 2011. Three tugs were hijacked by armed pirates and 41 vessels were boarded. ' Eric Kulisch