NAIROBI, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- Piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden reduced drastically in 2012 as only 75 incidents including 14 hijackings were attributed to Somali pirates who continue to threaten an extended geographical region, a global maritime watchdog said on Wednesday.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in a global piracy report received in Nairobi that only five attacks were reported in the last quarter of 2012, adding that the number of Somali hijackings was halved from 28 in 2011 to 14 last year.
"This drop is likely due to the increased/active military action on suspected skiffs, military land based anti-piracy operations, preventive measures and increased use of armed guards on board ships as well as the monsoon season," IMB said in the report.
According to the report, only two crew have been killed, 250 taken hostage and one injured. The East and South Coast of Somalia including the Arabian Sea recorded 49 attacks including nine attacks in the Gulf of Oman region, with 13 attacks having been reported in the Gulf of Aden and the Southern Red Sea.
"As at December 31, 2012, suspected Somali pirates held eight vessels for ransom with 104 crew members of different nationalities as hostages on board these vessels. In addition, 23 kidnapped crew members are being held on land," IMB said.
Most of the attacks involve the use of weapons which is a cause of great concern to the merchant navy fleet as it poses a serious threat not only to injury and death of seafarers but also to the ship, cargo and environment.
"The Somali pirates are opportunistic and have attacked general cargo vessels, bulk carriers, all types of tankers, RoRo vessels, container vessels, fishing vessels, sailing yachts, tugs and dhows, " the report said.
According to the report, piracy on the world's seas has reached a five-year low, with 297 ships attacked in 2012, compared with 439 in 2011.
Worldwide figures were brought down by a huge reduction in Somali piracy, though East and West Africa remain the worst hit areas, with 150 attacks in 2012.
Some 174 ships were boarded globally by pirates last year, while 28 were hijacked and 28 were fired upon. IMB's Piracy Reporting Center also recorded 67 attempted attacks.
The number of people taken hostage onboard fell to 585 from 802 in 2011, while a further 26 were kidnapped for ransom in Nigeria. Six crew members were killed and 32 were injured or assaulted.
"IMB's piracy figures show a welcome reduction in hijackings and attacks to ships. But crews must remain vigilant, particularly in the highly dangerous waters off East and West Africa," said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, which has monitored piracy worldwide since 1991.
Usual modus operandi of the Somali pirates is to attack ships in the northern, eastern and southern coast of Somalia.
In the past attacks have also been reported off Kenya, off Tanzania, off Seychelles, off Madagascar, off Mozambique/ Mozambique Channel and in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea /off Oman, Gulf of Oman, off west coast India and off western Maldives.
Somali pirates are dangerous and are prepared to fire their automatic weapons and RPG at vessels in order to stop them. They have also used "mother vessels" to launch attacks at great distances from the coast.
These "mother vessels" are usually hijacked dhows or ocean going fishing vessels. In the past Somali pirates have also tried to use hijacked merchant vessels.
The "mother vessel" is able to proceed very far out to sea to launch smaller boats or skiffs to attack and hijack unsuspecting passing vessels. Skiffs are launched from these hijacked vessels which quickly intercept and attack innocent vessels resulting in some being successfully hijacked.
Masters are cautioned that attempted attacks and suspicious approaches have taken place as far east as 76°E, as far south as 22°S and as far north as 26°N (just south of the Straits of Hormuz) . Monitor and keep clear of all small boats, dhows and fishing vessels if possible.
The IMB said a 24-hour visual and radar watch must be maintained at all times while transiting these waters.
"Early sightings/detection and most importantly accurate assessment, keeping in mind the warnings and alerts for the area will allow Masters and PCASP to make informed," it said
According to IMB, the Somali pirate has also tried in the past to use hijacked merchant ships as mother vessels and hence advised all vessels to monitor not only small boats but also dhows, fishing vessels and merchant ships which are seen lowering skiffs or acting suspiciously.
"Keeping in line with the decrease in reported incidents in 2012 the attacks continued to drop in the fourth quarter as well," the IMB said.
Even though there is a welcome drop in Somali piracy, the IMB Piracy Reporting Center said it will continue to monitor the situation and advises vessels to remain vigilant and adhere to the latest BMP recommendations especially as the threat and the risk of an attack remain real.
IMB said navies are deterring piracy off Africa's east coast, with pre-emptive strikes and robust action against mother ships. "So too are private armed security teams and crews' application of' Best Management Practices'", it said.
But the threat and capability of heavily armed Somali pirates remains strong, the report warned. "The continued presence of the navies is vital to ensuring that Somali piracy remains low. This progress could easily be reversed if naval vessels were withdrawn from the area," Mukundan said.
Recently outgoing NATO Commander, Commodore Ben Bekkering, of the Dutch Navy, said that attacks off Somalia had declined sharply in 2012 but piracy remained a viable "business model" and could surge again very quickly if international naval forces in the region were cut back or reduced.
Somali pirates had received hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom from hijacking vessels resulting in some hostages being injured or killed in the process.
This had led to NATO, the EU and some nations to deploy their warships to patrol the area.
"I am convinced, if the navy ships would disappear, the piracy model would still be intact. Yes, they don't deploy that much to sea now but the leadership of the piracy is still there and if they hold their breath for a little while and nations take their navy ships back, I am pretty sure that the business model is still intact," Bekkering said.
He added that the situation could reverse and that piracy would resurface if the navies eased their efforts.