West Africa has replaced Somalia as the greatest source of pirate activity against commercial vessels, according to the International Maritime Bureau's latest global piracy report.
Somali piracy attacks have fallen to their lowest levels since 2006.
IMB, part of the International Chamber of Commerce, said it recorded 138 piracy incidents in the first half of the year, compared with 177 incidents in the same period last year. Seven hijackings have been recorded this year compared with 20 in the first six months of 2012. The number of sailors taken hostage also fell dramatically, down to 127 this year from 334 in the first half of 2012.
There have been 31 incidents of piracy and armed robbery so far this year, including four hijackings, in the Gulf of Guinea. The Africa region has also witnessed a surge in kidnappings and a wider range of ships being targeted in an area where oil and liquefied natural gas tankers are frequently attacked.
"There has been a worrying trend in the kidnapping of crew from vessels well outside the territorial limits of coastal states in the Gulf of Guinea," IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement.
In April, nine crew members were kidnapped from two container vessels, one of which was 170 nautical miles from the coast. Pirates have used motherships to conduct the attacks. Armed pirates in the Gulf of Guinea took 56 sailors hostage and were responsible for all 30 crew kidnappings reported so far in 2013. One person was reported killed and at least five more injured. Attacks off Nigeria accounted for 22 of the 31 incidents and 28 of the crew kidnappings.
There continues to be significant underreporting of attacks, IMB said, which prevents authorities from responding and endangers other vessels sailing into the area unaware of the potential threat ahead.
Authorities hope the June signing of the Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robber Against Ships, and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa by the head of nations in that region will lead to more law enforcement and military action against pirates.
Off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, eight piracy incidents, including two hijackings, were recorded in the first half of the year, with 34 hostages taken hostage.
IMB attributed the significant drop in the frequency and range of attacks by Somali pirates to actions by international navies, as well as preventive measures by merchant vessels, including the deployment of privately contracted armed security personnel.
"The navies continue to play a vital role in ensuring this threat is kept under control. The two vessels hijacked were recovered by naval action before the pirates could take them to Somalia. Only the navies can take such remedial action after a hijack," Mukundan said. "Denying the pirates any success is essential to a sustained solution to this crime. Pirates are known to be operating in these waters. Despite the temporary protection provided by the southwest monsoon in some parts of the Arabian Sea, the threat remains and vessels are advised to be vigilant and comply with the industry’s Best Management Practices as they transit this area.”
As of June 30, Somali pirates were holding 57 crew members for ransom on four vessels. They were also holding 11 kidnapped crew members on land in unknown conditions and locations. Four of these crew have been held since April 2010 and seven since September 2010.
Elsewhere in the world, low level thefts against vessels in ports and anchorages in Indonesia accounted for 48 attacks of which 43 vessels were boarded and some crew injured. IMB’s report includes details of the ports and anchorages where attacks appear to be concentrated. - Eric Kulisch