IMB report indicates maritime piracy is at a five-year low

Piracy on the seas has dropped to a five-year low, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) annual report on ‘piracy and armed robbery against ships’ released on Wednesday. Only 297 merchant vessels came under attack during the last year as against the 439 vessels in 2011.

The IMB, an arm of the International Chamber of Commerce, keeps track of maritime crimes.

While the report attributes the welcome fall to a ‘huge reduction in Somali piracy’, it highlights the fact that East and West Africa continue to be dangerous for seafarers. Both these regions together witnessed 150 attacks last year.

As many as 28 ships were hijacked by pirates last year the world over. While 174 merchant ships were boarded, 28 came under gunfire. The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre also recorded 67 attempted attacks during the year, said a media release issued by the agency.

“The number of people taken hostage onboard fell to 585 from 802 in 2011, while a further 26 were kidnapped for ransom in Nigeria. Six crewmembers were killed and 32 were injured or assaulted,” the release noted.

The let-up in piracy notwithstanding, crew of merchant ships must remain vigilant, particularly in the waters off East and West Africa, said IMB Director Captain Pottengal Mukundan.

Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, which account for nearly a quarter of the world’s piracy incidents, reported attacks on 75 ships last year as against 237 such incidents during 2011.

According to the IMB, formidable naval patrol, pre-emptive strikes against mother ships, deployment of private armed guards and the application of ‘Best Management Practices’ worked against pirates off Africa’s east coast.

But the threat of Somali pirates remains strong. “The continued presence of the navies is vital to ensuring that Somali piracy remains low,” said Captain Mukundan. “This progress could easily be reversed if naval vessels were withdrawn from the area.”

During this period, pirate mother ships and skiffs were sighted in the Gulf of Oman, southern Red Sea and the Somali basin, with a number of attacks reported close to the Straits of Hormuz and the energy routes out of the Arabian Gulf, said the release.

As on December 31, Somali pirates held 104 mariners hostage on eight ships, while 23 more were detained on land, pending negotiations for their release. Figures also show that container ships, bulk carriers and tankers loaded with oil, chemicals and other products were targeted by pirates.

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