Pirate Attacks Decrease Drastically

In the past several years, pirate attacks on vessels in the northern Indian Ocean made headlines as hostages and the ships on which they worked were held for ransom in record numbers. It proved to be an attractive and lucrative career for poor residents of Somalia and surrounding areas — many of whom have little prospects for traditional money-making opportunities.

But pirates haven’t been so successful in recent months. In fact, the U.S. Navy reports that there was an 80% decline in overall attempted attacks in 2012 compared with 2011. In terms of vessels hijacked, the number decreased by almost 75%. The reason for this drastic decrease is simple: self-defense.

As African Business reports:

“The ultimate security measure a commercial ship can adopt is the use of privately contracted armed security teams,” says Andrew Shapiro, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs of the US State Department. “These teams are often made up of former members of various armed forces, who guard merchant ships during transits through high risk waters,” he told a recent briefing in Washington. “The use of armed private sector security teams has been a potential game changer in combating piracy. To date, not a single ship with armed security personnel aboard has been successfully pirated.”

Other protective measures adopted by merchant shipping includes passing through high risk areas at full speed and erecting physical barriers, such as razor wire, to make it more difficult for pirates to come aboard.

So, even though the threat remains, it seems that companies are taking every effort to prevent attacks on vessels and staff. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in a 2009 speech, “We may be dealing with a 17th century crime, but we need to bring 21st century solutions to bear.” It seems those 21st century solutions are working.



Global Pirate Attacks Down Due to Naval Deterrence

The good news is that the number of pirate attacks on the high seas was slightly lower in 2011 than in 2010. The bad news is that they’re are still a ton of them occurring around Africa. The 439 attacks recorded last year were just 6 fewer than the amount in 2010, according to the latest report from the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

And this isn’t a result that is just naturally trending (slightly) downward, says the IMB. The agency claims that the numbers would have been higher if naval patrols near the the coast of Somali, the global hotbed of pirate attacks.

In the last quarter of 2011 alone, pre-emptive strikes by international navies disrupted at least 20 Pirate Action Groups (PAGs) before they could become a threat to commercial fleets. The last quarter of 2010 saw 90 incidents and 19 vessels hijacked; in 2011, those numbers fell to 31 and four, respectively.

“These pre-emptive naval strikes, the hardening of vessels in line with the Best Management Practices and the deterrent effect of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel, have all contributed to this decrease,” said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC), which has been monitoring piracy worldwide since 1991. “The role of the navies is critical to the anti-piracy efforts in this area.”

There are more positive findings.

“Only” 802 crewmembers were taken hostage in 2011, down from more than 1,000 in both of the past two years and a high of 1,174 in 2010. And only 10 crewmembers were taken hostage/kidnapped, which was down from the 27 who suffered that fate last year and way below the combined 105 taken hostage in 2007 and 2008.

Here is a chart showing the attacks by the type of violence the criminals used on the crew in recent years.

As I noted in Risk Management magazine in November, the positive naval efforts to deter pirates around Somali has has led to somewhat of a whack-a-mole situation. As Somali pirates have been curtailed, a new threat has emerged in the Gulf of Guinea off Benin on the other side of Africa.

That is one of many reasons that these mildly positive numbers shouldn’t be celebrated. Piracy remains a major challenge, and it has taken a significant naval presence just to essentially stop the figures from increasing. The real goal, of course, is to start creating a real downward trend — not just a possible statistical blip of 6 fewer attacks.

Lastly, here are two graphs showing where the 439 recorded attacks in 2011 occurred and one that shows what types of ships are being attacked.

Pirate Attacks in 2011 by Location

Pirate Attacks in 2011 by Vessel Type

Jan/Feb Issue of Risk Management Now Online

Faithful readers: the January/February issue of Risk Management magazine is now online. The cover story focuses on women’s struggles and successes within the risk management and insurance industry. Other features explore the rising risk of pirate threats on the high seas, the 3 worst assumptions risk managers make and how a new SEC rule changed the way companies look at risk management.

Our columns explore topics such as insurers reaction to the Fed’s spending, the biggest risks of 2011, the property/casualty market in 2011 and an engaging Q&A with Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer.

If you enjoy what you seen online, you can subscribe to the print edition to enjoy even more content.

Please let us know what you think in the comments below. And stay tuned to the blog for even more coverage in the future. Lastly, you can follow the magazine on Twitter“like” us on Facebook and join our LinkedIn group.

Risk Management Links of the Day: 12.15.09


  • Despite yesterday’s passage of Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (HR 4173) in the House, regulators across the globe are still dragging their feet on financial sector reform. Paul Volcker continues to tell everyone who will listen — and even those who won’t — about the grave need to restructure the industry, but no one is doing anything tangible about it. “Two years after the start of the deepest recession since the 1930s, no U.S. or European authority has put in force a single measure that would transform the financial system, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. No rule- or law-making body is actively considering the automatic dismantling of banks that Volcker told Congress are sheltered by access to an implicit safety net.” Acclaimed economist and Nobel-winner Joseph Stiglitz says Volcker is “spot on” and Robert Creamer makes a similar “if it’s too big to fail, it’s too big to exist” plea over at The Huffington Post. Bankers, for their part, assured Obama today that they are willing to play ball during their visit to the White House. We’ll see.
  • The New Yorker‘s 12-page feature “The Most Failed State” profiles Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and details the desolate national landscape that has given rise to the pirates that dominate the country’s coastline. (Subscription required) Ahmedou Ould-Abdullah, the U.N.’s special representative to Somalia, offers this bleak analysis: “Somalia is just as bad as it has ever been, perhaps worse. I know that it is politically incorrect to say so, but there can be no humanitarian ’emergency’ that should continue for twenty years — it’s a contradiction in terms.”
  • Some are concerned that China’s rush to embrace nuclear power in lieu of dirty coal plants could lead builders to cut corners in regards to safety. “China must maintain nuclear safeguards in a national business culture where quality and safety sometimes take a back seat to cost-cutting, profits and outright corruption — as shown by scandals in the food, pharmaceutical and toy industries and by the shoddy construction of schools that collapsed in the Sichuan Province earthquake last year.”

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