Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sea Piracy Almost Doubles as Somalia Attacks Surge

Piracy attacks worldwide almost doubled in the first quarter, led by a surge in incidents around Somalia, a group that monitors sea hijackings said.

There were 102 attacks in the first three months, compared with 53 a year ago, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said in a statement on its Web site today. The Gulf of Aden and east coast of Somalia accounted for 61 of the seizures or attempted hijackings, from 6 last year, the group said.

Somali assailants captured their first U.S.-flagged ship this month with the Maersk Alabama, and vowed to step up attacks against U.S. and French interests after three hijackers were killed in an operation to free the ship’s captain. The pirates have switched their point of attack to the nation’s east coast, attempting to seize 18 vessels in the area in March compared with two in January and February combined, the IMB said.

“There will be a need for a continued and growing naval presence,” Cyrus Mody, an IMB official in London, said in a phone interview. “That is probably the only answer currently.”

About 25 warships from the European Union, the U.S., Turkey, China, India, Russia and Malaysia are in the Gulf of Aden to protect a shipping route carrying about one-tenth of world trade. Captured pirates will stand trial in Kenya under an agreement between the east African nation, the U.S. and the EU. Previously, there was no legal framework to deal with detainees.

The threat of prosecution is a deterrent, however the final solution lies with finding an end to the lawless chaos in Somalia, Mody said. The country hasn’t had an effective central government since the ouster of Mohamed Said Barre in 1991.

Japanese Ship

Somali pirates today released the Japanese-owned ship Stolt Strength and its crew of 23 Filipinos after holding them for five months, Eduardo Malaya, a spokesman for the Philippine Foreign Ministry said.

A total of 17 vessels and 292 crew members are still being held near the pirate strongholds of Eyl, Obbia and Harardhere in northeast Somalia, Mody said.

In January 2009, one in every six vessels attacked was successfully hijacked in the Gulf of Aden and east coast of Somalia, with the rate decreasing to one in eight for February 2009 and one in 13 for the month of March. On average, one in eight vessels was hijacked in the first quarter, the IMB said.

The east coast of Somalia recorded 20 attacks in the first quarter of the year, with 18 of the incidents reported in March alone - including four hijackings. This compares to the last quarter of 2008 in which seven incidents were reported including two hijackings for this area.

Worldwide, a total of 34 vessels were boarded in the first quarter, 29 fired upon and nine vessels hijacked. A total of 178 crew members were taken hostage, nine were injured, five kidnapped and two killed, the group said.

Peru has seen an increased level of incidents in its waters with seven reported attacks, all of them successful. Attacks off Nigeria, which had the most incidents a year ago, fell to seven from 10. The situation has also improved in the Malacca Straits, Bangladesh and Tanzania this quarter.