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Piracy On High Seas At Lowest Level In Six Years, Report Says

NPR icon by Scott Neuman
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Danile Costantini

Piracy at sea has hit a six-year low, thanks largely to a steep drop in attacks by Somali pirates operating in the Indian Ocean, according to a new report by the International Maritime Bureau.

The maritime watchdog says that in 2013, there were 264 attacks against shipping worldwide, and just 15 off the Somali coast. The incidents near the Horn of Africa are down from 75 in 2012 and have dropped 40 percent from 2011, when attacks in that area peaked at 237.

"The single biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa," Pottengal Mukundan, IMB's director, said in a statement.

The report credits "a combination of factors, including the key role of international navies, the hardening of vessels, the use of private armed security teams, and the stabilizing influence of Somalia's central government" for the drop.

In November, the United Nations and World Bank issued a report saying that pirates operating off the Horn of Africa had netted as much as $413 million in ransom payments between 2005 and 2012. The most famous incident there, the seizure of the MV Maersk Alabama, occurred in 2009. The capture of the container ship inspired the film Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks.

According to the IMB report issued Wednesday:

"[More] than 300 people were taken hostage at sea last year and 21 were injured, nearly all with guns or knives. A total of 12 vessels were hijacked, 202 were boarded, 22 were fired upon and a further 28 reported attempted attacks. Nigerian pirates were particularly violent, killing one crewmember, and kidnapping 36 people to hold onshore for ransom."

The report says Indonesia has bucked the trend, accounting for 50 percent of all reported attacks in 2013, but that they were generally "low-level opportunistic thefts, not to be compared with the more serious incidents off Africa."

It said that 19 percent off all attacks worldwide last year occurred off the West African coast. Nigerian pirates, who accounted for 31 of the region's 51 attacks, being "particular violent."

The Two-Way reported on two such incidents involving Nigerian pirates last year. In October, two U.S. crew members from an offshore supply vessel were held for ransom, but later freed after an "unspecified ransom" was paid. Last month, the Ukrainian captain and a Greek engineer were seized from the MT Althea off Nigeria. The two were reportedly released last week.

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