NAIROBI, Oct 22 (Xinhua) -- Somali pirates are still holding 11 foreign vessels for ransom with 167 crew members as hostages as of Sept. 30 as the number of ships signaling attacks by Somali pirates has fallen to its lowest since 2009, a global maritime organization said on Monday.
A report from the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released on Monday said 21 kidnapped crew members are being held on land and more than 20 hostages have now been held for over 30 months.
"It's good news that hijackings are down, but there can be no room for complacency: these waters are still extremely high-risk and the naval presence must be maintained," said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, IMB Director said in a statement sent to Xinhua.
Before the capture of Kismayo, the Horn of Africa nation's coastline was considered one of the world's most dangerous stretches of water because of piracy.
Demanding millions of dollars in ransom for captured ships and their crews, Somali pirates had late last year 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 percent of the world's daily oil supply is shipped through the gulf.
The attacks are being carried out by increasingly well- coordinated Somali gangs armed with automatic weapons and rocket- propelled grenades, maritime officials said.
The drop in Somali piracy has brought global figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea down to 233 incidents this year -- the lowest third quarter total since 2008, according to IMB.
According to IMB, a membership organization that has monitored world piracy since 1991, in the first nine months of 2012, there were 70 Somali attacks compared with 199 for the corresponding period in 2011.
"And from July to September, just one ship reported an attempted attack by Somali pirates, compared with 36 incidents in the same three months last year," the report showed.
IMB said policing and interventions by international navies are deterring pirates, along with ships' employment of Best Management Practice including the use of armed guards and other onboard security measures.
"We welcome the successful robust targeting of Pirate Action Groups by international navies in the high risk waters off Somalia, ensuring these criminals are removed before they can threaten ships," said Mukundan.
He however warned seafarers to remain vigilant in the high-risk waters around Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Meanwhile, violent attacks and hijackings are spreading in the Gulf of Guinea.
Kenya said the drop in piracy incidents is however a relief to shipping companies using the Indian Ocean that have been target of pirates often paying heavy ransom to secure release of their vehicles and the crew.
Shipping companies had been forced to hire private security companies to enhance the security of their vehicles, a fact that however has increased the cost of doing business.
Kenya's Transport Minister early this month said the successful capture of the Somali port of Kismayo by Africa Union soldiers and allied forces will significantly boost the growth of maritime industry in Africa.
Kimunya told a regional maritime conference that the liberation of Kismayo by Kenyan contingent in the UN-backed AU forces had put an end to piracy off the coast of Somalia that had posed a major threat to regional trade, forcing cost of freight to go up.
"With the eventual liberation of port of Kismayo by the joint forces we know that we have tackled piracy at source," Kimunya told the inaugural African Maritime Authorities meeting in Mombasa on Oct. 4.
Worldwide this year, pirates have killed at least six crew and taken 448 seafarers hostage. The IMB Piracy Reporting Center recorded that 125 vessels were boarded, 24 hijacked and 26 fired upon. In addition, 58 attempted attacks were reported.
Shipping companies have also been forced to hire private security companies to enhance the security of their vehicles, a fact that however has increased the cost of doing business.
Consumers in eastern and central Africa region have 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 consumers.
The three task forces reinforced the call for maintenance of high security alert and investment saying that even with all the military presence in the Indian Ocean, the efforts of naval forces cannot guarantee safety in the region.
IMB recommends all ship operators to use the anti-piracy guiding booklet known as the Best Management Practices version 4 (BMP4) that provides useful updates for masters in implementing protection measures to deter piracy that is based on lessons learned from ships' masters.