Bloomberg News

Record Somali Pirate Incidents Increase Ship Attacks by 36%

July 14, 2011

(Updates with hijacking rate in fifth paragraph, economic effect in 11th.)

July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Pirate attacks climbed 36 percent in the first half of the year as the number of attempts off Somalia in East Africa rose to a record.

There were 266 attacks in the period, compared with 196 a year earlier, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said in a statement today.

“In the last six months, Somali pirates attacked more vessels than ever before and they’re taking higher risks,” IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said. They fired on ships for the first time during the monsoon season last month, he said.

Shipowners are improving their vessels’ security measures and a strengthened naval presence is also cutting the pirates’ success rate, the IMB said. While attacks by Somali pirates climbed to 163 from 100 a year earlier, the number of ships they hijacked fell to 21 from 27, it said.

Pirates hijacked one in eight vessels attacked in the first half, compared with one in four a year earlier, the report showed. The last hijacking took place April 30, with 44 further attempted attacks since then, the IMB said.

Somali pirates took 361 sailors hostage and kidnapped 13 in the first half. The number of violent and organized attacks off West Africa also increased, the IMB said.

Engine Damage

The Brillante Virtuoso, a tanker carrying about 1 million barrels of fuel oil, was set on fire off the Yemeni coast and suffered engine damage after pirates used a rocket-propelled grenade to attack the vessel, a legal adviser to the ship’s owner said July 6.

Bulk carriers that haul grains and minerals drew the most attacks with 61 reported, followed by 41 crude tankers, 40 chemical tankers and 35 container ships.

Monsoon weather in the Indian Ocean region that began in early June displaced pirates to the Gulf of Aden and the southern Red Sea, the IMB said. It called the 18 attacks reported in the Red Sea area since May 20 “a cause for concern.” Three attacks in the Indian Ocean in adverse weather showed threats remained during monsoons for the first time, the IMB said, citing winds of 34 miles an hour and swells of 4.5 meters (15 feet).

“It may be that these recent Indian Ocean incidents are a sign of desperation on behalf of pirates, or that there are many more pirate action groups operating now than there were in 2010, particularly outside the Gulf of Aden,” the IMB said.

Piracy costs the world economy $7 billion, Mark Brownrigg, director general of the U.K. Chamber of Shipping, told legislators June 22. The Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean region where Somali pirates operate is transited by 28,000 ships a year, he said. Naval ships must patrol an area the size of Europe, and more than four-fifths of Somali pirates they capture are released without prosecution, Major General Buster Howes, operational commander of EU Navfor, told the lawmakers.

--With assistance from Michelle Wiese Bockmann in London. Editors: Dan Weeks, Alastair Reed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alaric Nightingale in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alaric Nightingale at

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