Southeast Asia hub of global pirate attacks

Geneva (AFP) – Southeast Asia has become the world’s hotspot for pirate attacks after an international clampdown slashed the number of hijackings off the coast of war-torn Somalia, the UN said Thursday.

Last year 28 boats were attacked in the western Indian Ocean but none taken captive in the region, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) said in a report.

That compares to January 2011, when Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 boats, some onshore and others on their vessels.

“There has been a significant reduction in the number of pirate attacks during 2013, to the extent one can claim they have almost stopped,” UNITAR said after its five-year study.

Attacks in the Horn of Africa spiralled from the early 2000s, with pirates hijacking cargo ships and taking crews prisoner for months and even years.

Much of the reduction in attacks is down to the international fleet that has started to patrol the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, and many merchant vessels have started keeping armed guards onboard.

Attacks have also become far less severe, with incidents involving rocket-propelled grenades falling from 43 in 2011 to just three last year.

At the same time the pirates’ ransom haul fell from $150 million in 2011 to $60 million the following year.

They’re also sticking much closer to shore, with the average raid taking place less than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the coast in 2013, a quarter of their range three years earlier.

– Focus back on Southeast Asia –

Meanwhile in Southeast Asia piracy has surged, particularly in the maritime trading hub of the Malacca Straits, between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Attacks in the region topped 150 last year after starting an upward trend since 2010, said UNITAR.

“Piracy in the Malacca Strait continues to be a major disruptor for safe routes in the eastern Indian Ocean,” said thew agency.

Last month the International Maritime Bureau said that there had been 23 actual or attempted attacks in Southeast Asian waters between January and March, mainly off Indonesia.

UNITAR said piracy was likely to become even worse in the region as the centre of gravity of global shipping continues to shift towards Asia.

“With changing climatic conditions at high latitudes and medium-to-low-income countries in Asia experiencing the largest growth per capita, additional transport routes may be explored,” it added.

In total the World Bank estimates that piracy costs the global economy roughly $18 billion (13 billion euros) a year in increased trade costs.

That amount “dwarfs the estimated $53 million average annual ransom paid since 2005,” the bank said in a 2013 report.

Another focus of piracy is Africa’s Gulf of Guinea off West Africa, where there were 50 incidents of piracy last year.

Attacks in the region have become increasingly violent, sowing economic havoc and sparking a military fight-back by governments.

Early in June a Greek oil tanker with 24 crew aboard was hijacked off Ghana in the Gulf of Guinea, the IMB said.

“The number of attacks show no sign of decreasing. Attacks in the high seas have increased, while attacks in ports are on the decrease,” said UNITAR.


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