Piracy in Somalia has fallen sharply for the first half of 2012, while the Gulf of Guinea has experienced a worrying increase in attacks, the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau’s global piracy report has revealed.
Globally, 177 incidents were reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre in the first six months of 2012, compared with 266 incidents for the same period in 2011.
The IMB said 20 vessels were hijacked worldwide, with a total number of 334 crew members taken hostage.
There were a further 80 vessels boarded, 25 vessels fired upon and 52 reported attempted attacks. At least four crew members were killed.
Incidents of Somali piracy activity dropped from 163 in the first six months of 2011 to 69 in 2012. The number of vessels also hijacked by Somali pirates dropped from 21 to 13.
However, this has been offset by an increase in attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, where 32 incidents, including five hijackings, were reported in 2012, versus 25 in 2011.
In Nigeria alone, there were 17 reports, compared with six in 2011. Togo reported five incidents, including a hijacking, compared with no incidents during the same time last year.
The IMB said high levels of violence were also being used against crew members in the Gulf of Guinea. Guns were reported in at least 20 of the 32 incidents. At least one crew member was killed and another later died as a result of an attack.
In Nigeria, three vessels and 61 crew members were taken hostage. Seven vessels were boarded, six fired upon and one attempted attack was reported.
The use of motherships has been a trend several industry commentators have recently remarked upon and the IMB said the fact that attacks by armed pirates in skiffs were occurring at greater distances from the coast did suggest the possible use of fishing or other vessels to reach targets.
On June 30 alone, three vessels were fired upon, including a tanker and a container vessel within a five-minute period, approximately 135 nautical miles from Port Harcourt.
The increase in pirate activity off Togo has also been attributed to Nigerian pirates, according to the IMB.
The five reported incidents all occurred in April, culminating with the hijacking of a panamax product tanker by the month’s end.
The rise in reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea comes despite concerns that many acts of piracy in the area go unreported, due to fears of reprisal.
Despite an increasing number of piracy intelligence services, the IMB PRC remains the world’s only manned not-for-profit centre to receive and disseminate reports of piracy and armed robbery 24 hours a day across the globe. As part of ICC, it is an independent body set up to monitor these attacks free of political interference.
IMB said it strongly urged all shipmasters and owners to report all actual, attempted and suspicious piracy and armed robbery incidents to the IMB PRC.
“This is an essential first step in the response chain. The statistics and reports of the IMB PRC act as a catalyst to encourage firm response by government and law enforcement,” it said.
While the drop in piracy in Somalia is welcomed, the IMB warned that piracy in the region continues to remain a serious threat. As of June 30, Somali pirates were still holding 11 vessels and 218 crew, 44 of whom were being held ashore in unknown locations and conditions.
“Somali pirate attacks cover a vast area, from the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Gulf of Oman to the Arabian Sea and Somali Basin, threatening all shipping routes in the northwest Indian Ocean,” said IMB piracy director Pottengal Mukundan.
The report, in part, has attributed the noticeable decline in Somali piracy to the pre-emptive and disruptive counter-piracy tactics employed by the international navies. “There is no alternative to their continued presence,” said Mr Mukundan.
The effective deployment of best management practices, ship hardening and, in particular, the increased use of private maritime security companies, has also contributed to the falling numbers.
Currently commercial armed security teams are not permitted to work in the Gulf of Guinea and PMSCs can only operate there on a consultancy basis.
Elsewhere in the world, the reports of piracy have mainly been armed robberies. Indonesia accounts for almost 20% of the global numbers, with 32 reported incidents compared to 21 over the same period in 2011.
Twenty-eight of the vessels targeted were boarded, including 23 anchored vessels, two berthed and three that were under way. Guns have been reported on one occasion.
IMB further noted that many other attacks may also have gone unreported.