The nature of international piracy is undergoing a dramatic change, according to a study recently released by three organizations: the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and Maritime Piracy-Humanitarian Response.
The study shows that in 2012, for the first time in recent history, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea surpassed those in the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean.
Policies enacted by the Somali government and an increased presence of international navies off the coast of Somalia have resulted in a striking reduction of pirate attacks of the eastern coast of Africa. The number of such incidents dropped by 80 percent from 2011 to 2012.
However, the news was not all good. Pirate attacks off the coast of western Africa tend to be more violent than those undertaken off the coast of Somalia.
Moreover, while the number of pirate attacks dropped dramatically off the coast of Somalia, the success rate of those launched was substantially higher.
There were other differences as well. Piracy off Africa’s west coast is primarily aimed at capturing cargoes of refined oil, while off Somalia, the impetus is to secure hostages for ransom. The difference in motives means that west African pirates hold their captives for an average of four days; while Somali pirates, who engage in sensitive negotiations with shipping companies and host governments, keep civilian mariners for nearly a year.
Members of the international maritime community are saying that the report will have important implications for the future. For example, “These statistics may also indicate that (Somali) pirates have learned to fire upon and attack only the most vulnerable vessels … vessels that do not carry armed guards” or that don’t take any other antipiracy measures.