Pirate attacks wane but Somalis still key culprits

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2012, 12:00am


The number of pirate attacks fell to 439 last year, down from 445 in 2010, but Somali pirates continued to account for most incidents, according to the International Maritime Bureau's global piracy report released yesterday.

In all, 45 ships were hijacked last year, including 28 by Somali pirates, while 176 vessels were boarded and 113 ships were fired upon. Some 802 seamen were held hostage in 2011 - down from 1,181 in 2010 - and eight crew were killed, the same number as in 2010. By comparison, 53 ships were seized in 2010, including 49 hijacked by Somali pirates.

Captain Pottengal Mukundan, director of the bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, said pre-emptive naval strikes and extra onboard security measures, such as razor wire and armed guards, 'all contributed to this decrease'. 'The role of the navies is critical to the anti-piracy efforts in this area,' he said.

The report shows 21 Hong Kong-flagged ships were attacked globally last year compared with 18 in 2010, putting the territory sixth among jurisdictions whose vessels were attacked at least 12 times. There was also a rise in the number of attacks on ships managed by Hong Kong companies, with incidents against 27 ships compared with 16 on 2010. Twelve ships managed by mainland companies were also attacked last year, against nine a year earlier.

The rise in attacks on Hong Kong ships has prompted growing interest among local operators to use armed guards. It also led Protection Vessels International, a British company that uses ex-Royal Marines as armed guards, to set up a Hong Kong office last year to promote its services to Asian shipowners. The company is now looking at setting up offices in Shanghai and Singapore.

While Somali pirates accounted for about 54 per cent of attacks worldwide last year, the South China Sea, Indonesia and Malaysia remained attack hot spots. There were 46 incidents around Indonesia, against 40 in 2010, and 13 in the South China Sea, down from 31 in 2010.

Two ships were also boarded by robbers, some armed with knives, while the vessels were anchored at mainland ports last year, the bureau said. This compared with one attack, in Dalian, in 2010.

Naval and shipping sources said that after a mostly quiet fourth quarter last year, the number of attacks by Somali pirates started to rise from December, with four reported attacks in the past three weeks. Seven pirate attack groups have been disrupted by naval forces, leading to the detention of 70 suspected pirates since the beginning of January.