Pope meets victims

ITF Somali pirates are taking more risks, as the incidence of piracy once again rose in the first half of 2011.

The latest figures from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) - which monitors piracy worldwide - show that there were 266 pirate attacks in the first six months of 2011, a rise from 196 incidents in the same period of 2010.

More than 60 per cent of the attacks were by Somali pirates, with the majority in the Arabian Sea. Oil tankers sailing from the Arabian Gulf have become a growing target, and there are signs that Somali pirates are taking greater risks, says the IMB, for example, firing on ships during the current monsoon period in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the rise in attacks, the number of successful hijacks continues to fall, as vessels take anti-piracy measures and with the intervention of naval patrols. Although Somali pirates attacked 163 ships in the first half of 2011, compared with 100 in the same period of 2010, they managed to hijack just 21 ships, compared with 27 in the first half of 2010.

However, seafarers continue to suffer from attack and even murder by the pirates. Worldwide, 495 seafarers were taken hostage in the first six months of 2011 - Somali pirates took 361 hostage and kidnapped 13. Pirates killed seven people and injured 39.

The IMB also reports that vessels are increasingly coming under attack from automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade launchers. "Whereas five years ago pirates were just as likely to brandish a knife as a gun, this year guns were used in 160 attacks and knives in 35."

There has also been a surge in "particularly violent and highly organised attacks" off the coast of West Africa this year. In Benin, for example, where there were no incidents in 2010, 12 tankers have been attacked since March. In five cases, vessels were hijacked and forced to sail to unknown locations, where pirates ransacked and stole equipment and part of their cargo. Other tankers suffered violent armed robberies. There were also violent attacks on vessels off Nigeria, which the IMB believes is more dangerous than suggested by the reported figures.

IMB also recorded incidents in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore Straits and the South China Sea.

IMB "strongly urges" all masters and owners to report all actual, attempted and suspected piracy and armed robbery incidents to its Piracy Reporting Centre.

Meanwhile, the Pope has acknowledged the effects of piracy in a meeting with victims on 10 July to mark World Maritime Day. Pope Benedict XVI met a dozen people with relatives held captive by pirates, and offered prayers for kidnapped seafarers. The families met the Pope at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, Italy accompanied by Father Giacomo Martino, director of the Apostolate of the Sea (Stella Maris).

Somali pirates continue to hold captive around 20 vessels and over 400 hostages, according to the latest figures from the IMB. Hostages include seven Indian seafarers from the Asphalt Venture still held captive despite the payment of a ransom in April.

Recent incidents reported to the IMB's worldwide Piracy Reporting Centre include:

  • Pirates armed with guns approached a chemical tanker in the Bab el Mandeb straits, Red Sea on 13 July but abandoned their attack after the vessel deployed its onboard security team.
  • Five robbers armed with knives boarded a container ship anchored at Haiphong, Vietnam and escaped with ship's stores.
  • Pirates fired machine guns and rocket propelled grenade on a bulk carrier off Conakry, Guinea on 9 July. The alarm was raised and the crew mustered, and the pirates moved away as the vessel moved further out to sea.
  • Three robbers boarded a container vessel anchored in Manila, Philippines on 8 July. The alarm was raised but the robbers escaped with stolen ship stores.

Source: ITF Seafarers