Home » Maritime » Pirate attacks rise in first half of 2011

Pirate attacks on the world’s seas totaled 266 in the first six months of 2011, up from 196 incidents in the same period last year, according to the latest report from the Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB).

Somali pirates launched more than 60 percent of the attacks, mostly in the Arabian Sea area, said the report “Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships,” released July 14. As of June 30, Somali pirates were holding 20 vessels and 420 crew, and demanding ransoms of millions of dollars for their release, the report said.

“In the last six months, Somali pirates attacked more vessels than ever before and they’re taking higher risks,” said Pottengal Mukundan, IMB director. “This June, for the first time, pirates fired on ships in rough seas in the Indian Ocean during the monsoon season. In the past, they would have stayed away in such difficult conditions.”

Many of the attacks in the first six months occurred east and northeast of the Gulf of Aden, an area frequented by crude oil tankers sailing from the Arabian Gulf, as well as in other traffic sailing into the Gulf of Aden. Since May 20, some 14 vessels have been attacked in the Southern Red Sea.

The report said Somali pirates have grown more active, launching 163 attacks this year, up from 100 in the first six months of 2010. But they managed to hijack fewer ships, just 21 in the first half of 2011 compared with 27 in the same period last year.

The report attributed this to both increased ship hardening and international naval forces disrupting pirate groups off the east coast of Africa.

Somali pirates took 361 sailors hostage and kidnapped 13 in the first six months of 2011. Worldwide, 495 seafarers were taken hostage. Pirates killed seven people and injured 39. Ninety-nine vessels were boarded, 76 fired upon and 62 thwarted attacks were reported.

Automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers are increasingly used in attacks on ships, including oil and chemical tankers, noted the report. Five years ago, pirates were likely to brandish a knife more than a gun; this year guns were used in 160 attacks, and knives in 35.

The coast of West Africa has been hit by a surge of violent and highly organized attacks this year. The IMB report listed 12 attacks on tankers off Benin since March, an area where no incidents were reported in 2010. Five vessels were hijacked and forced to sail to unknown locations, where pirates ransacked and stole the vessel’s equipment and part of their oil cargo. Six more tankers were boarded, mainly in armed robbery-style attacks, and one attempted attack was reported.

In neighboring Nigeria, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre was informed of three boardings, two vessel firings, and one attempted attack. The crew were beaten and threatened. The ship’s equipment and crew’s personal effects were stolen. But IMB said that the seas around Nigeria are more dangerous than official reports suggest. The organization said it knew of at least 11 other incidents that were not reported to the Piracy Reporting Centre by ships’ masters or owners.

Overall, 50 incidents were recorded for Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore Straits, and the South China Seas in the first two quarters of 2011. Three tugs were hijacked by armed pirates and 41 vessels were boarded.

Meanwhile, Cosco Shipping plans to allocate $12 million for armed guards and other anti-piracy measures to protect its ships and crews against the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

The Shanghai-listed shipping line, which owns around 80 ships, said the funding would cover the cost of bullet-proof vests for all crew and on-board equipment to both deter attacks and prevent pirate control of vessels if they do board.

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