Somali pirates' attacks on shipping plunged last year to the lowest since at least 2007 as increased use of armed guards and naval intervention deterred incidents in an area handling about $1 trillion in trade.
Attacks fell to 75 in 2012 from a record 237 in the prior year, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said in an e-mailed report today. While the number of hijacked ships fell by 50 percent to 14, the threat of vessel seizures remains as pirates wielding automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades are still seeking targets, the piracy observer said.
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About 42,250 vessels a year, including 20 percent of crude oil traded, traverse seas where Somali pirates operate in an area as large as continental Europe, hijacking ships for ransom and costing almost $7 billion in 2011. Incidents have taken place across the Indian Ocean, near the Persian Gulf, and in the Gulf of Aden, causing some vessels to deviate from Egypt's Suez Canal linking Europe and Asia.
"The continued presence of navies is vital to ensuring that Somali piracy remains low," IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said in the report. "This progress could easily be reversed if naval vessels were withdrawn from the area."
Pirates are still active and looking for ships to seize, and that's not reflected in statistics gathered because navies aren't classifying them as attacks, Glen Forbes, head of Oceanus Live, a counter-piracy information website, said by phone today.
Increase in Approaches
"There's an increase in approaches but not actual attacks and that's not being reported, or being under-reported as navies often say ships are mistaking pirates for fishing vessels," Forbes said. Oceanus Live is operated by Forbes Wallace Ltd., a Plymouth, England-based company.
About 30 percent of ships use private armed guards when transiting the area, compared with fewer than 10 percent three years ago, according to the International Chamber of Shipping in London. No vessel with armed guards on board has been hijacked, according to the Security Association for the Maritime Industry.
Pirates abort attacks when they see armed guards displaying their weapons, said David Rider, a spokesman for Poole, England- based Neptune Maritime Security Ltd., a maritime security company. They are instead increasingly seeking to identify soft- targets, he said.
There are three naval missions deployed to fight Somali piracy with the military's last capture, of 12 pirates, on Jan. 6, Jonathan Worthington, a spokesman for Maritime Command NATO, said by phone from Northwood, England today.
"Incidents of successful pirate attacks are at all-time low," Worthington said.
Maritime piracy cost industry about $7 billion in 2011, and 42,250 merchant ships transited the area, according to Oceans Beyond Piracy, a project of the Broomfield, Colorado-based nonprofit One Earth Future Foundation.
Trade through the region is valued at $1 trillion, according to the European Union's naval force, known as EU Navfor. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says 20 percent of the world's liquefied natural gas, and 20 percent of oil traded worldwide sails through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf of Oman, part of the at-risk area.
Pirate attacks globally fell to 297 in 2012, also a five- year low, from 439 in the prior 12 months, according to the IMB. The decrease was led by fewer Somali incidents, it said.
--Editors: Alaric Nightingale, Dan Weeks
To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Wiese Bockmann in London at mwiesebockmabloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alaric Nightingale at anightingal1bloomberg.net