* Piracy attacks are down due to vigilance
* But 177 seafarers still held hostage
* Risk of further attacks remains
By Jonathan Saul
LONDON, Sept 12 Somali pirate activity is
expected to stay low despite the end of the monsoon season, as
aggressive navy action, private armed security teams and
defensive measures by ships keep the heat on gangs at sea, navy
and security officials say.
Last year, Somali piracy in the busy shipping lanes of the
Gulf of Aden and the northwestern Indian Ocean netted $160
million, and cost the world economy some $7 billion, according
to the American One Earth Future foundation.
But in the first half of 2012 there were just 69 incidents
involving Somali pirates, compared with 163 in the same period
last year, International Maritime Bureau data showed.
"We are expecting the activity rate to be lower than last
year at this time ... that is based on the lack of activity in
the past six months," said Commodore Bruce Belliveau, NATO's
Deputy Chief of Staff Operations.
"We are not seeing the build up of logistic supplies that
they would have had in the past for outfitting fishing vessels
or dhows to use as motherships," he told Reuters on the
sidelines of a shipping conference in London on Wednesday.
International navies have stepped up pre-emptive action
against pirates, including strikes on their bases on the Somali
coast, and shipping firms are increasingly using armed guards
and other measures such as heightened watches and razor wire.
"In previous years, pirate attacks had jumped by around 70
per cent after the monsoon season ended. However, the
post-monsoon jump will be far less," said Rory Lamrock, an
intelligence analyst with security firm AKE.
"Ships are better secured and naval operations have put more
pressure on pirate groups, to the extent that the chance of a
successful hijacking is now very slight compared to years gone
past. This has made Somali piracy an increasingly unattractive
NATO's counter piracy mission is among efforts by
international navies to combat the seaborne menace, but
officials acknowledge that resources are limited.
Belliveau said forces covered 11 million square km (4
million square miles).
"It's a huge area to patrol," he said.
"It's not irreversible - the success that we are enjoying
right now. If we let down our guard, if we reduce the level of
forces, if we reduce the compliance ... then we will create a
new opportunity for entrepreneurial pirates to come back."
Belliveau said there were 177 hostages and seven vessels
held, compared with 682 seafarers and 30 ships held in February
Somalia's poverty and anarchy make the prospect of
million-dollar ransoms still attractive despite the risks. Last
week, suspected pirates opened fire on an Italian navy
helicopter off the coast of Somalia, wounding a pilot.
AKE's Lamrock said the incident "hints at the increasing
desperation of pirate groups".
"It may also have been a hostile reaction following on from
the EU's helicopter-borne attack on a pirate logistics stockpile
earlier this year," Lamrock said.
Belliveau said the election of Somalia's new President
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was a "positive step forward".
"There is an insurgency going in southern Somalia with al
Shabaab - there are a host of issues that the government will
have to deal with," he said. "It will take them time to build
institutions, but it's a step in the right direction and
provides some hope for the people of Somalia."
Mohamud and the visiting Kenyan foreign minister escaped an
apparent suicide bomb attack on Wednesday that was claimed by al
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)