Global piracy falls as naval patrols rise

An escalation in naval patrols in the Arabian Sea has led to a sharp fall in the number of attacks by Somali pirates in the first half of 2012, according to the International Maritime Bureau's global piracy report.

An escalation in naval patrols in the Arabian Sea has led to a sharp fall in the number of attacks by Somali pirates in the first half of 2012, according to the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) global piracy report, published yesterday.
However, bad weather and diminishing reserves of ransom money in the pirates' coffers have also been cited as reason for the dramatic fall-off in attacks, according to reports from inside the troubled East African country.
Currency restrictions by the British government could also be playing a role, said brokers in London, where as much as 95 per cent of the world's war-risk maritime insurance is placed.
According to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre based in Kuala Lumpur, Somali piracy attacks dropped from 163 in the first six months of last year to 69 in the same period this year. Somali pirates also hijacked fewer vessels, down from 21 to 13.
However, the report states Somali piracy continues to remain a serious threat.
"The naval actions have played an essential role in frustrating the pirates. There is no alternative to their continued presence," said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the IMB.
"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, and they continue to threaten all shipping routes in the north-west Indian Ocean."
As of 30 June, Somali pirates were still holding 11 vessels and 218 crew. Since April, only two vessels have been successfully ransomed.
According to wire service reports, the Panama-registered MV Leila, with a crew of 24 was ransomed in April for US$150,000 (Dh550,973). However, last month, pirates reputedly received a $4 million pay off for the 6,000 tonne Greek-owned tanker MT Liquid Velvet and its 21 Filipino crew, having originally demanded $8m ransom for the release of the ship.
According to the Somalia Report website, one of the few independent sources of news from inside the country, pirate sources are blaming poor weather conditions, due to the start of the south-western monsoon season, and a lack of investment from wealthy backers for the fall in pirate attacks in recent weeks.
"Yes, it's true, our operations were reduced. The first reason is lack of investment and second is bad weather," said the Somalia Report, quoting a pirate it named only as Tuur. "Our investors stopped investing in our operations after a high number of attacks finished unsuccessfully, so they lost a lot of money and now they don't want to invest in us. And weather, we heard that there is powerful winds."
The website also said it asked Tuur if western naval activity had played a major role in curbing pirate raids.
"It can cause pressure on us but I don't think [European Union's] anti-piracy airplanes can stop our missions. The main things are related to our internal reasons and the main one is investment," the website quoted Tuur.
"Because our businessmen stopped investing in us. Since there haven't been any vessels released, there isn't any ransom money available for new operations. As soon as we get ransom, soon our operations will begin."
Even with the windfall from the ransom of the MT Liquid Velvet last month, this situation is unlikely to change, said Somalia Report. "There have been very few high-profile, successful pirate hijackings over the last few months," it said.
One reason could be a physical shortage of US currency following the establishment of the International Pirate Ransoms Task Force by the British prime minister David Cameron in February. Ransoms reached $160m last year and the aim of the new body, set up following an international piracy conference in London that month, is to curb direct payments.
"The very existence of the task force is making the payments much more difficult," said Michele White, the general counsel to Intertankco, the tanker industry's biggest trade group. "The ransom lawyers are on the very margins of their ability to raise physical dollars to pay ransoms."
A spokesman for Eunavfor, the European Union anti-piracy naval force, said yesterday its activities had taken their toll on pirate activity.
"The pre-emptive and disruptive counter piracy tactics employed by the international navies is acting as a deterrent," he said. "Also, the effective deployment of best-management practices by ship owners . and, in particular, the increased use of privately contracted armed security personnel, has also contributed."
However, he warned continued vigilance was necessary and that the navies' intelligence assessment was that the threat had not gone away.
dblack@thenational.ae
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