January 24, 2013: Piracy attacks were down last year, returning to 2007 levels. The greatest reductions occurred off Somalia, where more effective anti-pirate patrols and escort operations made it very difficult for the pirates to even get close to merchant ships. When pirates did close in the crews were better equipped and trained to get away. Many ships now carry some armed guards when off Somalia, who can shoot back (much more accurately) if the pirates get too close. No ship with armed guards has been taken.
Last year there were 75 pirate attacks on large ships off Somalia, compared to 237 in 2011. Last year pirates took 14 ships, compared to 28 in 2011. It’s been more than six months since pirates have taken a ship off Somalia and several large pirate gangs have simply gone out of business. Others have switched to smuggling people from Africa to Yemen. That business is booming.
There has been more piracy off the west coast of Africa, where there were 58 incidents last year. Most of this has been taking place in the Gulf of Guinea where the pirates have become bolder and are hijacking ships (which they mainly take only long enough to steal the cargo). This is not a new trend (it has long been common in Asia) but it is new for West Africa. There are more naval forces active in West Africa and the pirates there will not have years of freedom from retribution like the Somali pirates did. In Asia the police and coastal security forces are aware of the "take the ship, disable navigation beacon, steal cargo" scam and have made it more difficult for pirates to get away with it. China was most successful at this, mainly because most of the culprits caught were executed.
Worldwide, there were 297 attacks last year and most of them were more like a mugging or burglary. Somalia has been such a big deal because it was the only place on the planet where pirates could anchor their captured ships somewhere and not have to worry about local police objecting or some warship coming in and liberating the ship. That sanctuary is not what it used to be and is soon to disappear.