Sea piracy has fallen to its lowest level since 2008, including a sharp decline off the coast of Somalia. However, the International Maritime Bureau warns Africa’s Gulf of Guinea is growing increasingly risky for shipping.
There have been 233 reported pirate attacks worldwide in the first nine months of this year. That’s down from more than 350 during the same period last year.
Pottengal Mukundan is director of the International Maritime Bureau, which runs the Piracy Reporting Center.
He said, “The numbers so far this year are down from the last few years. I think particularly with Somalia we have to be a little careful, and wait for the end-year statistics to see if this is a sustained trend. But so far, the numbers are encouraging.”
Usually, from the middle of June to early September, there are few pirate attacks off the Somali coast. That’s due to monsoons that make sailing treacherous for the pirate vessels. The attacks and attempted hijackings generally increase toward the end of September.
“We have not seen them pick up quite in the way they have picked up in past years. But there have been reports of sightings of pirate’s skiffs both in the northeast of the Arabian Sea and in the Somali Basin. So we know they’re out there,” he said.
But despite the monsoons, international naval patrols off the Somali coast get a lot of the credit.
“The role of the navies have been critical in bringing these attacks down because they can do things which neither private armed security nor the ship owners can do, which is to go after the mother ships and board them; remove their weapons; remove their equipment before they get into a position where they pose a threat to merchant ships. There’s also been one incident where the navies took action against a logistics base off the pirates’ shore in Somalia on the beach,” he said.
Also, more cargo vessels and oil tankers now have contingents of private armed security guards.
Mukundan said on the other side of Africa, the Gulf of Guinea is a pirate hot spot.
“Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have increased, and what is very worrying is that they have seemed to have gone well and truly transnational. What last year was purely a Nigerian problem appears now to have spread to the neighboring countries of Benin and Togo; and since the end of September there has been an attack in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast where a tanker was hijacked. So this is a very worrying trend,” he said.
Right now, the Nigerian navy has borne the bulk of anti-piracy measures in the Gulf of Guinea.
The International Maritime bureau reported in Asia there were 51 pirate attacks in the first nine months of the year. But Mukundan said those incidents cannot compare to attacks off the African coasts, which are often very violent.
“In Asia, by and large, they are simply opportunist thefts from the ships at anchor or passing through their waters. There’s been a handful of cases where tugs towing barges have been attacked and the barges and tugs have been stolen,” he said.
Mukundan said having private security guards on board vessels is not the long-term solution. He said naval patrols must continue. If they’re removed, he added, pirate attacks off the Somali coast will rise dramatically.