Worldwide piracy attacks fell for the third year in a row according to the latest annual report from the ICC International Maritime Bureau.
In 2006, there were 239 attacks on ships, compared to 276 in 2005 and 329 in 2004 says the annual report, which is based on statistics compiled by the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in Kuala Lumpur.
This shows a systematic decline not witnessed at any time since the PRC began its analysis in 1991 that, the IMB says should be seen as a cautious sign for optimism and a signal that continued action can go a long way towards solving the problem of piracy and armed robbery at sea.
Welcoming a third consecutive fall in attacks, the IMB paid tribute to the work of the PRC and reiterated the critical role it plays in identifying high risk areas, raising awareness of the issues and forcing governments to react to them.
“I cannot emphasise too much the importance that reliable and meaningful statistics have played in recent years in opening up the debate on piracy, in bringing it to the attention of a wider audience, and in getting governments to take action,” says IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan.
“Before the PRC, most governments did not appreciate the nature or magnitude of the problem. Now they do, many countries realise it is something they cannot ignore. As a result they have become more willing to take action and this is really starting to pay dividends.
“We have to keep up the pressure by encouraging more ships to report attacks, getting ever more accurate figures, and increasing awareness. The strategy is working and there are now signs the war against piracy can be won. We just have to keep doing what we have been doing,” he adds.
Turning to the report for 2006, Captain Mukundan moved away from the headlines to some of the areas where he said there was still plenty of room for improvement and opportunities for the shipping industry and governments to make a difference.
Urging continued action that could preserve the improved piracy situation in the Malacca Straits, he highlighted those areas of the world where a similar approach was needed. They included Indonesia, still the world’s hottest piracy hotspot, Nigeria, Somalia, and the ports of Chittagong in Bangladesh and Santos in Brazil.
Whilst Indonesia’s issues have long been documented in IMB piracy reports, the number of attacks has fallen significantly from 79 in 2005 to 50 in 2006. He said the growing spate of attacks and kidnapping of foreign oil workers in Nigeria was something that must be tackled. What was required was a more vigorous response to the attacks on oil vessels from the Navy, a greater willingness of local police to arrest the gangs known to be perpetrating these crimes, and more support from national government.
Somalia’s recent removal of the Islamic militia that had been taking such a hard stance on piracy was also of concern he said, adding that within days of their influence being removed there had been an attempted attack on an American bulk carrier in Somali waters, the first for a number of months. Now that a recognised central government has been re-established in the country, it must start to exert control over the militias – something it failed to do previously – or else face the prospect that pirate attacks will resume their previous levels.
In Bangladesh, the attacks have more than doubled to 47. Although it is currently the number two world piracy hotspot for attacks numerically, they are occurring in a much smaller geographical area than Indonesia. More has to be done to stop piracy against ships at anchor at the mouth of the river off Chittagong. The coastal region in this area is very poor and anchored ships make for a very tempting target. Attacks may be of a low level, with the pirates only seeking to steal anything they can lay their hands on that can be sold, but they are nevertheless armed and pose a serious danger to seafarers. The government of Bangladesh says it is taking action but given that the attackers are concentrated in a very small area there is surely more they could do.
Finally, the port of Santos in Brazil is currently experiencing a wave of attacks against container ships at anchor. The pirates board, break open containers and steal their contents, but the local police apparently do very little to tackle them on their return to shore.
If some of these local issues saw more preventive action and national problems were addressed more pro-actively, it would go a long way to reducing attacks says Captain Mukundan. But much of the catalyst for this needs to come from the ships themselves, who must report attacks no matter how small, so that a clear picture of the true extent of the problem can be seen and the appropriate measures implemented to deal with it.