Pirate attacks off Somalia plummet thanks to navies, armed guards
The pirate attacks are down 65 percent to their lowest level since 2009.
Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP/File
Pirate attacks off Somalia have plummeted 65 percent, toÂ their lowest level since 2009, but analysts warn that these gains could be reversed without sustained efforts to cementÂ security onshore.
Between January and September this year, Somali pirates carried out 70Â raids, down from 199 for the same stretch in 2011.
During the monsoon months of July, August, and September, pirates attempted only oneÂ hijacking, which failed, compared to 36 such incidents inÂ the same period last year.
Releasing these latest figures, the International Maritime BureauÂ (IMB) credited international naval patrols and the use of armed guardsÂ on ships as the major factors that thwarted fresh attacks.
â€śWe welcome the successful robust targeting of pirate action groups byÂ international navies in the high risk waters off Somalia, ensuringÂ these criminals are removed before they can threaten ships,â€ť Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB, said in a statement.
Still 188 hostages
This yearâ€™s drop in attacks off the coast of Somalia helped pull global piracyÂ figures to their lowest third quarter total since 2008, the IMB added,Â with 125 vessels boarded, 24 hijacked, 26 fired upon, and 58 attemptedÂ attacks.
Despite the gains, Somali pirates were still holding 11 vessels withÂ 167 crew members hostage, as well as 21 other crew members being heldÂ on land.
More than 20 of those hostages have been held for more than 30 months,Â the IMB said.
â€śItâ€™s good news that hijackings are down, but there can be no room forÂ complacency: These waters are still extremely high-risk and the navalÂ presence must be maintained,â€ť Captain Mukundan added.
Piracy off Somaliaâ€™s coastline â€“ Africaâ€™s longest â€“ soared from 2007,Â when armed gangs onshore began targeting the large numbers of shipsÂ carrying valuable cargo passing through the Gulf of Aden en route toÂ the Suez Canal.
By 2010, the cost of the pirate attacks was estimated at $12Â billion, taking into account higher insurance premiums, new securityÂ measures, rerouting ships, and ransom payments. Ransoms reached as high asÂ $9 million for a South Korean oil supertanker seized in 2010.
Roughly three dozen warships from the navies of the US, Britain, theÂ European Union, Russia, China, India, and others have since been
deployed to patrol more than one million square miles of ocean offÂ Somalia.
Barbed-wire on railings
As many as four in five vessels motoring through the Gulf of AdenÂ or south past Somaliaâ€™s coast now contract armed guards, roll barbedÂ wire along deck railings, and carry powerful hoses, all as anti-piracy measures.
Piracy experts reckon that it is these new tactics that have made theÂ most significant contribution to the reduction in successful attacksÂ off Somalia in recent years.
In 2009, one in three ships that pirates targeted were successfullyÂ seized, their crew taken hostage. Now, that figure is closer to oneÂ in 20, according to Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian piracy expert.
â€śThere is a golden opportunity at the moment, but the internationalÂ community, the navies and the private security, cannot let down theirÂ guard,â€ť Professor Hansen says.
â€śRest assured that the organization and apparatus of the piratesÂ onshore has not been dismantled, and as soon as there is any sign of aÂ lack of continued interest by the international community, this thingÂ will come back.â€ť
It has long been argued that greater stability in Somalia itself willÂ be the fastest way to stamp out piracy, by creating greaterÂ opportunities for legal employment, and instituting a national justiceÂ system to prosecute those that stray.
While there have been impressive recent gains for Somaliaâ€™sÂ government, most of the new territory it now controls is south ofÂ Mogadishu, in areas once run by Al Shabab, the countryâ€™s IslamistÂ rebels.
In pirate havens north of the capital, the warlords and armed gangsÂ still rule, and it is likely that bringing these groups to heel willÂ take far longer.
Kingpins still at large
At the same time, Prof Hansen adds, there have been no prosecutions ofÂ the main investors and â€śkingpinsâ€ť who finance pirate groups in returnÂ for a slice of future ransoms.
â€śThey are moving into other sectors â€“ import, export, that kind ofÂ thing â€“ but they are still there, apparently immune from arrest,Â waiting it out,â€ť he says.
Key to consigning Somali piracy permanently to the history books is toÂ target this relatively small number of men at the apex of theÂ business, said Thomas Kelly, the State Departmentâ€™s counter-piracyÂ policy chief.
He aims to shift attention to this core group and seek prosecutionsÂ under money-laundering and corruption laws rather than sea piracyÂ legislation.
â€śThat's how we got Al Capone, he went to jail because of tax fraud.Â One of the main areas of multilateral work and in places like InterpolÂ is to try to focus on the kingpins,â€ť he told Britainâ€™s Daily TelegraphÂ newspaper recently.
"You have to go after the people who are buying the boats, buying theÂ weapons, and then laundering the money in Africa and other places.Â Money laundering is a global business they're not keeping it in oneÂ place you need to have law enforcement in many different placesÂ talking to each other.
â€śJust incarcerating young Somali men who are the foot soldiers isn'tÂ going to eradicate the problem by itself.â€ť