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Fewer attacks and why you should still be afraid of Somali pirates

Fewer attacks and why you should still be afraid of Somali pirates
Piracy and good news are not terms that normally go together, but piracy figures for the first nine months of the year would indeed at first glance appear to be just that. Unfortunately appearances can be deceptive.

Last week industry funded watchdog the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that piracy incidents in the third quarter had dropped to a seven year low, the piracy hotbed off Somalia had seen just 10 attacks in nine months compared to 70 in the same period in 2012.

This week’s third quarter report from government funded Asian regional anti-piracy body ReCAAP also showed a declining trend of 90 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery in Asia – Pacific. Notably all incidents were what ReCAAP calls category two or three attacks, and there were no incidents its highest and most serious category one.

It all sounds rather heartening really and up to a point it is. However, a combination of incidents that happened in October after both IMB’s and ReCAAP’s reporting periods, and the growth of increasingly violent piracy off West Africa mean it is perhaps not as good news those reports might suggest at first glance, and piracy remains a complex issue to tackle on multiple level.

While the IMB was positive about the improvement in the piracy situation off Somalia it also warned the threat remained.

Indeed as the monsoon season has come to an end there has been renewed activity by Somali pirates. Two weeks ago Somali pirates fired upon the VLCC Island Splendor, however, the attack was successfully repelled by armed guards. Since the Australian Navy have also captured the suspected pirates involved in the thwarted attack.

The reduction in attacks off Somalia has been largely credited to the international naval deployments in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden as well as the use by many shipowners of private armed security onboard their vessels. In the long run there will be pressure by governments to reduce costly naval deployments, while the use of private armed security can have its own difficulties as AdvanFort’s current travails in India demonstrate.

Then there is the troubling rise in piracy off West Africa in the Gulf of Guinea. The modus operandi is somewhat different to Somalia with the aim being to steal the cargo rather than ransom the crew and their vessel. However, the level of violence used is often extremely high and unlike in the Somali model of piracy the crew do not have a value to the pirates as a bargaining chip.

The route of international naval deployments to combat piracy in West Africa is not an option as attacks happen in the waters off functioning sovereign states. The use of private armed security is also difficult due to local laws.

The piracy situation in Southeast Asia is much improved over a decade ago, however, an attack off Malaysia this month, where the product tanker Danai 4 was hijacked and its cargo stolen. It has raised concerns with its similarity to the West African model of piracy, rather than most piracy in the region, which is largely restricted to petty theft.

It is heartening to see the numbers of reported piracy attacks go down, but the threat to shipping and seafarers remains on many fronts, and the industry cannot afford to let down its guard or ease up its pressure on governments to ensure this scourge of the high seas is kept at bay.