Piracy on the downturn in Somali waters

Piracy successful attacks down in Somali waters
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While ever piracy remains rife in the waters around Somalia the most popular and natural route for circumnavigating cruising sailors remains out of bounds. Safe waters may be a long way off but there's progress and it's worth relating.

The United States Navy in a report has said that acts of piracy in the treacherous waters around the Horn of Africa have fallen sharply in 2012. Both aggressive patrolling by international forces and increased vigilance by the commercial shipping industry are responsible for the decrease.

The numbers are astounding and encouraging. 46 pirate attacks occurred in the area in 2012, compared with 222 in all of 2011 and 239 in 2010.

Only nine of the piracy attempts this year have been successful, a big decrease over 34 successful attacks in all of 2011 and 68 in 2010.

That doesn't mean that the waters are safe yet, and Vice Adm Mark Fox, the Navy's deputy chief for operations was cautioning too much optimism.

'The pirates are very adaptable, and they are very flexible,' he said this week.

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.

There have been no successful pirate attacks since May and none attempted since the end of June. While the decrease is normal during the monsoon season, it is nevertheless the longest gap in pirate attacks in the last five years since the Somali pirates started treating it as a deadly business.

But shipping companies seem to have become more organised as well. More commercial vessels are carrying 'embarked security teams' of armed guards and no vessel with such a team on board has been hijacked. Superyachts, who have the speed to reach the minimum 15 knots required to transit the security zone in the Gulf of Aden, are also tending to carry armed guards.

One significant change this year has been that American and European forces have conducted a handful of high-profile and proactive 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.

With the release of South African couple Deborah Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari, who were held captive for seventeen months before their release last month, no cruising sailors are known to be in pirate hands.

All cruising sailors are advised in the strongest possible terms to avoid the north western Indian Ocean. In fact, with Somali pirates suffering a lack of successful hijackings, a transiting yacht, with its comparatively meagre pickings, might be more attractive than in the past.

But there's hope for the future. If you're dreaming of a circumnavigation to include the Red Sea, don't plan to go yet, but don't give up the dream either.