NAPLES, Italy — Incidents of maritime piracy have fallen to their lowest level in six years due to the sharp decline in attacks off the Somali coast, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday.
Vessels reported 264 attacks by sea pirates last year, down from 297 reports in 2012 and a 41 percent drop from 2011, when piracy near Somalia reached its peak, the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre said in its annual report.
Pirates last year hijacked 12 vessels and boarded 202, taking 304 hostages during the year and kidnapping 36 crewmembers to take back on shore, the piracy watchdog said. Most of the ships boarded were tankers carrying products such as fuel and oil.
Indonesia counted the most incidents, with 106, although most of these were simple robberies. The report said these should not be compared to the more serious hijacking and kidnappings seen elsewhere.
Nigerian-based pirates were singled out in the report for the growing violence seen in their attacks — the year’s sole death in piracy incidents came at the hands of Nigerian pirates who accounted for 31 attacks. They also kidnapped 36 crewmembers for ransom, the highest number seized by Nigerian pirates in the region since 2008, the report said.
Among the kidnap victims were two Americans, whose oil supply ship, the C-Retriever, was boarded and hijacked in late October. Both men were released weeks later after the payment of a ransom.
The report says Nigerian pirates are learning to work farther from their home waters, with attacks occurring as far west as Ivory Coast and Togo and as far south as Gabon.
While some observers have drawn comparisons between piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and the attacks off the Horn of Africa, the difference is one of scale — the IMB reported 237 attacks by Somali pirates in 2011.
The dramatic decline in attacks by Somali gangs to just 15 in 2013 is widely attributed to the policing efforts of international navies, which arrived in 2009 following a U.N. resolution that opened Somalia’s territorial waters and its shoreline to the anti-piracy flotillas.
Changes to security protocols, including guidelines for entering dangerous waters and the addition of armed security teams on merchant ships, also have likely made a difference. Prosecutions of Somali pirates in the U.S. and Africa have sought to add teeth to policing measures.
“It remains imperative that these combined efforts continue,” the report said of the crew protocols. “Any change or complacency, at this stage, could rekindle the pirate activity.”
Despite fewer incidents off the Horn of Africa, ramifications from past attacks linger — 64 crewmembers kidnapped between April 2010 and March 2012 remain held by Somali pirates.