NAIROBI (Xinhua) – Global efforts to combat piracy in the Horn of Africa region have helped in reducing piracy in 2014, including cooperation amongst the navies operating in the region.
Three years ago, senior naval officers said Somali pirates had created a lucrative business thriving as a result of the lawlessness inside the war-torn Horn of Africa nation, which had proved to be the greatest threat to international peace and regional trade.
The spate of hijackings along the volatile coastline had made maritime experts to consider a raft of radical measures, including a total ban on the use of the East Africa coastline, especially the Gulf of Eden, in favour of the Cape of Good Hope further southwards.
The level of weaponry sophistication amongst the pirates had maritime analysts worried about an escalation of terrorism, environmental degradation and the potential of catastrophic spills at sea as the pirates shift from using automatic weapons to explosives.
But efforts by the international community to deploy foreign naval forces off the Horn of Africa and Kenya’s cross border incursion into Southern Somalia have helped reduce pirate incidents.
According to EU Naval Force for Somalia (EUNAVFOR), which deter, prevent and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast, there have been only two attacks since January in the Horn of Africa, neither of which were successful.
EUNAVFOR spokesperson Commander Jacqueline Sheriff said pirate attacks off coast Somalia have been slashed in recent years, with international fleets patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, as well as armed guards being posted aboard many vessels.
“There were only two attacks this year compares to the situation in 2011 when during the 12 months period 176 pirate attacks were recorded, of which 25 ships were pirated and held for ransom,” Sheriff said.
Sheriff attributed the drop in piracy to coordinated intelligence interventions by international navies which are deterring pirates, along with ships’ employment of Best Management Practice (BMP), including the use of armed guards and other onboard security measures.
Demanding millions of dollars in ransom for captured ships and their crews, Somali pirates had early 2011 intensified operations not just off their own coastline, but further afield in the Red Sea – particularly during the monsoon season in the wider Indian Ocean.
Tankers carrying Middle East oil through the Suez Canal must pass first through the Gulf of Aden. According to maritime officials, about four per cent of the world’s daily oil supply is shipped through the gulf.
Consumers in eastern and central Africa region had also been affected by the piracy as the cost of insurance went up because of highlighted risks, forcing importers to transfer the high insurance cost to consumers.
“As of December 9, 30 hostages and no ships are being held. EU Naval Force assesses that the reduction in attacks is due to the self-protection measures of the maritime industry and the coordinated efforts of naval forces in the Horn of Africa region,” Sheriff said.
She said by extending the Operation Atalanta mission on November 21, the EU Member States recognised that whilst piracy incidents are down, the pirates’ business model is only fractured not broken.
The spokesperson cautioned that conditions in Somalia have not changed sufficiently enough to prevent young Somali men from going out to sea.
“If naval forces were to stop conducting piracy operations we assess that the pirates would return to the high seas,” Sheriff said.
She said continued self-protection measures of the maritime industry and presence of naval forces in the region will continue to deter and disrupt pirate action groups in 2015. “This will hopefully ensure that the pirates’ incidents remain at a low level,” She added.
With piracy incidents remaining low, Sheriff said, the lull in attacks has given seafarers, and their families much-needed reassurance when they transit the Horn of Africa region.
“Freed hostages have given harrowing accounts of their time in captivity. The low level of piracy has also enabled vessels carrying international trade to transit safely through the Horn of Africa,” she said.
Before the capture of Somalia’s Kismayo by Kenyan soldiers, the Horn of Africa nation’s coastline was considered one of the world’s most dangerous stretches of water because of piracy.
“With the eventual liberation of port of Kismayo by the joint forces, we know that we have tackled piracy at source,” a government official who did not want to be named told Xinhua.
The reduction of piracy in Somalia, whose efforts to establish a central authority has been doomed to failure for the last 19 years, could begin to show some progress with the establishment of a more serious central government in the Horn of Africa nation.
International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Director Pottengal Mukundan said it was encouraging to see the huge decrease in maritime piracy and armed robbery over the last few years, thanks mainly to international navies deterring pirates off East Africa, and improved onboard security.
“We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters and report all attacks and suspicious small craft to the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre,” Mukundan said.