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Spike in Somali piracy attacks likely as monsoon passes

Spike in Somali piracy attacks likely as monsoon passes

London: Ships in the Indian Ocean must prepare for an increase in pirate attacks after the southwestern monsoon ends in the coming weeks, the commander of an anti- piracy naval task force said.

"The prior preparation and vigilance of merchant mariners at all times of day and night is more important now than ever," Turkish Rear Admiral Caner Bener, commander of Task Force 151, said in a statement this week. "While our ability to deter and disrupt attacks has improved over time, we are constantly adapting the way we do our business as the pirates adapt and modify their tactics."

After peaking in April, attacks by Somali pirates have dropped off as their skiffs struggle to cope with waves kicked up by the monsoon.

Pirates have attacked vessels off the coast of Somalia 130 times so far this year, with 28 ships seized, the U.S. Navy said. Only 10 of those attacks, two of them successful, have occurred since June 1. The last attack was July 13 and the last ship was taken July 10.

Pirates continue to hold 10 boats and 190 seamen for ransom. Ransoms have tended to range from $500,000 to $2 million, though $3 million was paid for the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star last year, the Congressional Research Service said in a February report.

The cost of kidnap and ransom insurance for the Gulf of Aden has risen tenfold since the start of 2008, with some ship owners paying $30,000 for coverage of up to $3 million, said Aon Corp. in its annual Marine Insurance outlook June 4.

There are 34 naval vessels from 16 countries operating off the Somali coast to deter piracy. Besides Task Force 151, which was spun off from a naval force supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, there are fleets from the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as individual warships from India, China, Russia and Malaysia.

To prevent attacks, ships should use transit corridors in the Gulf of Aden, report their positions to naval forces in the area, keep a constant lookout, and consider hiring security teams, Bener said in the statement.

Bener recently met with the commanders of the EU and NATO fleets to coordinate their efforts in view of the coming end of the monsoon, according to the statement. The Gulf of Aden is a chokepoint for the 25,000 ships a year that carry 20 percent of global trade through the Suez Canal. [28/07/09]