Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Somali pirates hijacked the fewest merchant ships since 2004 last year as armed guards and naval patrols helped deter and repel attacks on a trade lane linking Europe to Asia.
The number of vessels seized off the East African country’s coast fell to two last year from 14 in 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, a London-based group tracking sea crime, said in a report today. Last year’s tally was the smallest since 2004, data from the bureau show. The decrease helped to drive global piracy down to a six-year low.
Private armed guards, naval intervention and other on-board security measures combined with greater stability in Somalia to reduce attacks, according to the IMB. The cost of Somali piracy to the global economy was about $6 billion in 2012 and $7 billion the year before, according to Oceans Beyond Piracy, a project of the Broomfield, Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation. The pirates had targeted ships that were sailing to or from Egypt’s Suez Canal, a waterway handling about 4.5 percent of oil trade.
“Ship transits in the region have been applying the best management practices effectively, which deters pirates from attacking,” Giles Noakes, chief maritime security officer at the Baltic and International Maritime Council in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, the world’s largest shipping association, said before the report was released. “Some of the more risky vessels have been used with armed guards.”
The slump in attacks near Africa’s eastern shores is being countered by a gain in strikes off the continent’s western coast. Pirates took 49 people hostage and kidnapped 35 off Nigeria, the most since 2008.
“Pirates in West Africa often target specific ships to steal part of their cargo,” said Phillip Belcher, London-based marine director at the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners. “They also attack ships to steal money and personal effects from the crew.”
Governments have moved to fight piracy off Africa’s western coast. States in the area signed a code of conduct last year to help protect trade and shipping. Regional navies are leading efforts to deter attacks off West Africa, while international forces drove the clampdown on Somali piracy, according to the Oceans Beyond Piracy website.
The use of private armed guards off West Africa is restricted because they are barred from nations’ territorial waters, according to Belcher. Ship operators must employ local guards instead, he said.
The total number of pirate attacks worldwide dropped to 264 last year, the IMB report showed. “Low-level opportunistic thefts” in Indonesian anchorages and waters accounted for more than half of vessel boardings in 2013.
“The single biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa,” IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said in the report.
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