The EU anti-piracy taskforce said Somali pirates were still holding 54 hostages and two ships in captivity and warned of more danger posed by the gunmen.
The EU Naval Force Somalia said in a statement received on Wednesday that the pirates have attacked nine more ships since May 2012, warning against complacency since the pirates are still issuing threats if ransoms are not paid.
“I am very concerned that seafarers and nations will lower their guard and support for counter piracy operations in the belief that the piracy threat is over,” EU Naval Force’s Operation Commander Rear Admiral Bob Tarrant said.
Somali pirates tend to be well armed with automatic weapons and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and sometimes use skiffs launched from mother vessels, which may be hijacked fishing vessels or dhows, to conduct attacks far from the Somali coast.
Since Somali piracy is largely a hijack-for-ransom business, it relies heavily on onshore support for infrastructure that provides food, water, fuel and the leafy narcotic khat to the militiamen who guard the hijacked ships throughout the ransom negotiation process.
Tarrant’s statement comes as the number of attacks off the coast of Somalia related to Somali pirates has reduced drastically with five incidents being reported in the first quarter of 2013 including the hijacking of a fishing vessel and its 20-member crew, according to the global maritime watchdog.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has however warned of complacency in its latest quarterly report for January-March, saying the risk of being approached or attacked still exists.
The watchdog said although the number of acts of piracy reported in Somalia has significantly decreased, there can be no room for complacency.
“We should remember that at its height in January 2011, 32 ships were pirated by Somali pirates and 736 hostages were held. It is crucial that we remain vigilant or the number of attacks will once again rise,” Tarrant said.
He reiterated his warning that Somali pirates are still posing a threat to the foreign vessels operating of the coast of Somalia, adding that if presented with an easy target, will attack.
The Admiral’s warning comes days after EU Naval Force warship ESPS Rayo located a skiff with six men on board 320 nautical miles off the Somali coast.
According to the naval force, it is highly unusual to see these small, open top boats so far out to sea, so a team from Rayo went across to investigate.
The statement said the 6 men could not explain why they had sailed so far from land, adding that there was no evidence of trade or legal activity and Rayo’s crew found equipment on board that is commonly related to piracy.
“Whilst there was not enough evidence on this occasion that could have guaranteed a legal prosecution, the decision was taken to return the men to the Somali coast so that they could not pose any potential risk to passing ships,” it said.
EU Naval Force Spokesperson, Lieutenant Commander Jacqueline Sherriff said whilst not possible this time, every effort is made to achieve a prosecution when suspect pirates are apprehended by the EU naval force as demonstrated in recent months by the legal transfers of suspect pirates to Mauritius and The Seychelles authorities.”
The Rayo incident comes exactly one year since the last ship, chemical tanker MV Smyrni, was seized by armed pirates off the Somali coast.