Thursday, October 22, 2009

Global piracy at an all-time high

The International Maritime Bureau's piracy and armed robbery report for the third quarter of 2009 has been released and it's official: There have been more pirate incidents in the first nine months of this year than for all of 2008. From January 1 to September 30, the IMB reports 306 incidents, as compared with 293 for January 1 to December 31, 2008.

As quoted in Reuters, the IMB says there were 324 global attacks if you count incidents reported up to Tuesday (October 20). These include 37 hijackings and 639 people held hostage. In the same period last year there were 194 attacks, 36 hijackings and 631 hostages held by pirates.

There is some good news in the report, though: Attacks committed by Somali pirates over the summer months were down this year. The IMB says there that between June and October, there were 43 reported attacks in the waters off the Horn of Africa (HoA), only 6 of which resulted in a successful hijacking. Last year, there were 57 attacks in the same period, including 23 hijackings.

While some of the reduction in attacks off the HoA can be attributed to the summer monsoon weather, IMB director Pottengal Mukundan tells Reuters that he also believes the presence of naval assets in the region has also been a strong contributing factor. He also mentions the heightened defensive measures being taken by mariners who are, "[N]ot giving way easily," while singling out measures taken by authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland as helping.

But while Somali piracy may be down a bit - and don't count any of them out, yet - Mukundan warns that the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa continues to be a dangerous region, with 21 attacks noted until last Tuesday. More ominously, though, the IMB director points out that these reported attacks probably represent only 35 percent of actual incidents, as many (most) go unreported. So double or triple the numbers when looking at the figures.

As for how to deal with the situation in Somalia, Mukundan has some thoughts expressed in a Voice of America article. Like myself and many others, he feels that the problem must addressed ashore, where pirates operate from. Which is why the IMB director expresses his support for how authorities in Puntland are trying to deal with the criminals, because piracy does not begin on the seas - it begins on land. As Mukundan tells VoA, "This is very important because it is the local community taking responsibility for the local criminals and punishing them under their own laws."

Effective naval security, enhanced civilian anti-piracy measures and more robust legal prosecutions are at least half the solution. Shutting down the money trail is another hefty element. But we're still left with the nagging problem of finding the means to build relationships with the nascent authorities ashore in Somalia, without whom piracy cannot be contained.

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