An anitcipated surge in piracy attacks from Somalia following the end of the monsoon season has failed to materialise, giving some encouragement that increased measures by shipowners and crews, more proactive military tactics and various international initiatives in Somalia are having an effect.
However, organisations stress that it is still too soon to be confident that the situation has fundamentally changed, especially as this year the monsoon season extended slightly longer than usual.
Only a few weeks ago military sources were warning of an imminent sharp rise in attacks as the monsoon season came to an end. However, the latest statistics show that compared to this time last year, the level of pirate activity, attacks and hijackings is down significantly.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, in October this year there were three attacks in the Gulf of Aden and 14 in the Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea, with just one ship hijacked. This compares with October 2010 when there were a total of 25 attacks, of which six resulted in vessels being hijacked.
So far in November this year there have only been a small number of unconfirmed attempted pirate attacks and one reported hijack, involving a Taiwanese fishing vessel that subsequently escaped. In November 2010, there were 42 pirate attacks, six of them resulting in hijacks plus a further 27 reports of ships being fired on.
The IMB and the EU Navfor have not identified a clear single reason for this absence of attacks but they offered a number of contributory factors.
EU Navfor spokesman Commander Harrie Harrison told Lloyd’s List that more shipowners applying best management practices, employing armed security guards and the use of onboard citadels was a major factor deterring pirates. There is also evidence that more ships are undertaking piracy drills.
“BMP4 is the way ahead to prevent pirates from getting on board,” he said. “We are agnostic about armed security and there are still some issues to be resolved but it seems to be effective.”
He highlighted two recent incidents in which use of citadels prevented pirates from hijacking ships and crews, including the Italian bulk carrier Montecristo . There are also indications that more ships are being routed away from the highest risk areas.
Cmdr Harrison also pointed to more effective action by the military in disrupting pirate action groups. Although there are no more naval vessels deployed in anti-piracy patrols than a year earlier, they have been more proactive in intelligence-led operations against pirate groups and have sometimes been in the right place at the right time to prevent potential attacks.
The three naval coalitions have a total of 18 warships on anti-piracy duties and there are also a number of other ships from navies acting independently. “There are still some attacks but they are failing to translate into hijacks.”
Another factor is that the pirates appear to have far fewer mother ships available than this time last year. There are now just 10 ships being held, few of which could be used as pirate motherships, whereas in January they had as many as 32 potential motherships.
A spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau told Lloyd’s List that more effective naval activity using intelligence and surveillance to target and disrupt pirate action groups appeared to be deterring attacks on merchant ships. He said that in October 11 PAGs were disrupted by naval actions.
As well as action by shipowners and navies, initiatives on the ground in Somalia appear to be having some effect. Efforts to deter pirate activity by persuading Somalis of the dangers and other negative effects for them have been stepped up, while the authorities in Puntland have been more active in arresting pirates.
Efforts are being made to persuade influential clan elders in Somalia from stopping pirate activity and there have been a number of moves to drive pirates away from beaches to protect legitimate fishermen.