Pirate attacks increased 170% worldwide last month, with 46 attacks reported in January up from 17 in December, according to UK-based maritime risk company AKE.
The number of attempted attacks off Somalia matched those in February 2011 “despite suggestions that the widespread use of armed guards and naval exercises had reduced the piracy threat since then”, AKE said.
Pirates did not appear to be deterred by heightened security measures, said AKE maritime analyst Rory Lamrock.
“Naval operations and increased security on merchant vessels may have significantly reduced the number of successful hijackings, but the risk of being approached or attacked is unchanged,” Mr Lamrock said. “Merchant vessels are being attacked further out to sea, with militants and criminals reportedly hijacking local fishing vessels for use as motherships.”
Mr Lamrock noted that the surge in piracy is not limited to the East African coast, citing attacks in the waters off the Nigerian coast as a growing concern.
“Where once attacks were limited to local creeks and coastal waters, incidents should now be anticipated up to, and possibly over, 100 miles from the shore,” he said.
He added that attacks in Asia and Latin America mostly occurred in ports and anchorages, although in one attack off the coast of Colombia, a merchant ship was chased by armed men in a speedboat some 45 miles out to sea.
Mr Lamrock’s message comes after recent comments by International Chamber of Shipping chairman Spiros Polemis after an ICS board meeting this week.
“Recent press reports might give the impression that the level of piracy off Somalia is decreasing,” he said. “However, most ship operators will be aware that this is not the situation.”
Mr Polemis set out three immediate objectives to governments. “First, take the attack to the pirates, while at the same time continuing to defend merchant vessels in the best way possible,” Mr Polemis said.
He urged governments to prosecute all captured pirates, and imprison all those convicted and called for legal action to break the financial chain that supports piracy.