By THOM SHANKER
Data released by the Navy last week showed 46 pirate attacks in the area this year, compared with 222 in all of last year and 239 in 2010. Nine of the piracy attempts this year have been successful, according to the data, compared with 34 successful attacks in all of 2011 and 68 in 2010.
Even so, senior Navy officers have been careful not to declare victory.
“The pirates are very adaptable, and they are very flexible,” said Vice Adm. Mark I. Fox, the Navy’s deputy chief for operations, plans and strategy. “We are watching carefully.”
The prospect of renewed political turmoil in the region, especially in Somalia and Yemen, may again drive up attempts at the lucrative business of piracy, since lawless areas in these countries provide havens for pirates to launch their raids and to hold captured vessels and hostages. Further economic collapse may prompt more farmers and fisherman to choose piracy.
But the statistics so far this year are encouraging. As of last week, the last successful pirate attack in waters off East Africa had occurred on May 10, and the most recent attempted attack had occurred on June 27. The gap since that last raid represents the longest break in pirate activity in the area in five years.
Navy officers note the seasonal ebb and flow of piracy attacks in the region, influenced by the twice-yearly monsoons, and they warn that in October and November the waters and winds tend to be calmer and that pirate raids increase. But the statistics for 2012 are far below what could be explained by weather alone.
The decrease in attacks appears to be a result of increased security measures taken by commercial vessels and of sustained antipiracy patrols by the navies of more than a dozen nations, including the United States.
Admiral Fox said the shipping industry “can take a great deal of credit” for the trend. More commercial vessels are carrying “embarked security teams” of armed guards, he said, and no vessel with such a team on board has been hijacked.
Commercial ship captains are also following recommendations that they sail in international transit corridors that the navies patrol. More ships are taking measures to make it difficult for pirates to climb aboard from the waterline.
And American and European forces have conducted a handful of high-profile counterpiracy raids in which hostages have been freed and pirates have been killed or captured. Officials say those raids may be acting as a deterrent.
The effect can be seen in the busy Gulf of Aden, a hunting ground favored by pirates before the United States and other nations began patrolling a 460-mile-long shipping corridor through it. “It is now one of the safest” areas, Admiral Fox said.
The multinational counterpiracy effort, called Combined Task Force 151, was organized in 2009 and operates in and around the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and other areas of the Indian Ocean, with 25 to 30 warships on patrol on any given day. Overseeing the task force is Combined Maritime Forces, which is based in Bahrain along with the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Command of the task force unit itself rotates among participating nations, and it has been held by the United States, Denmark, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey and, most recently, South Korea.
The task force coordinates its efforts with other counterpiracy missions in the region operated by NATO and European Union members, and a number of other nations send out patrols independently.
“Piracy is like an ancient disease that should be extinct in this modern world,” said Commodore Simon Ancona of the British Navy, who is currently deputy commander of Combined Maritime Forces. “The cure is difficult and requires the disruption of pirate actions, building law and order and livelihoods ashore, and making the merchant prey less vulnerable. Although there are signs of remission, I would judge the medicine will be required for some time to come
Somali pirates in particular have hijacked hundreds of vessels in the past few years, ranging from the sailboat of a retired British couple to a 1,000-foot supertanker.
East African pirates routinely hold seized vessels and hostages for ransom that can run to hundreds of millions of dollars. Commercial shipping officials say that Somali pirates alone cause an additional $5 billion a year in expenses for insurance and security, with piracy in other regions adding billions more to the cost.
Source: The New York Times