Arms race on high seas: Armed pirate attacks soar

By | March 4, 2010

Arms race on high seas Armed pirate attacks soar

Somali pirates hit a Spanish fishing boat off the coast of Kenya with a rocket-propelled grenade Thursday as private security on board returned fire at the would-be hijackers.

The successful defense of the fishing vessel Albacan illustrates two trends driving up the stakes for sailors and pirates off the Horn of Africa: Better trained and protected crews are increasingly able to repel attacks, but pirates eager for multimillion-dollar ransoms are now resorting to violence much more often to capture ships.

Two-thirds of attacks by Somali pirates are being repelled by crews alone, without the aid of the coalition warships that patrol the Gulf of Aden, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of attacks reported to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

Most did so without the use of armed guards, although private security contractors helped repel pirates in at least five incidents off the Somali coast last year.

As it gets harder for pirates to capture ships, the Somali gangs are more likely to fire at sailors with automatic weapons to make ships stop. The bureau says only seven ships were fired on worldwide in 2004 but that 114 ships were fired on last year off the Somali coast alone. That’s up from 39 incidents off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden in 2008.

Most crews now post extra lookouts, register with maritime authorities and practice anti-piracy drills, said Cyrus Mody of the IMB. Increasing speed and maneuvering so a ship produces more wake or heads into rough waves can also make it more difficult for pirates.

The International Maritime Bureau does not recommend using armed guards due to potential legal problems and fears of starting an arms race with the pirates or increasing the danger to sailors. Moody told AP in October 2008 that armed guards on ships may encourage pirates to use their weapons more — a prediction that appears to have become reality. … Most hijackings are opportunistic and pirates who encounter resistance often give up and chase an easier target.

“If you’re being chased by a lion, you don’t have to be faster than the lion,” said Graeme Gibbon Brooks of Dryad Maritime Intelligence. “You just have to be faster than the person next to you.”

Better training and preparations mean that although 2009 saw 217 Somali pirate attacks — the highest number on record — most were unsuccessful. Forty-seven ships were taken, about the same as in 2008, which saw 111 attacks, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The attacks are becoming more dangerous for crew members, though. More than 20 ships were fired on with rocket-propelled grenades last year, including tankers and chemical tankers. In one incident, two grenades lodged in the door of a ship’s bridge — the area where the captain steers from. Many other ships were damaged by small-arms fire, according to reports from IMB.

“In the old days (pirates) just used to show up and wave a rusty rifle. Now people aren’t so easily frightened,” said Gibbon Brooks. …

via Arms race on high seas: Armed pirate attacks soar – Yahoo! News.

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