- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Piracy has risen to record levels this year, with Somalia’s 21st-century buccaneers responsible more than half of it, according to new figures from the International Maritime Bureau.

The bureau, part of the global business advocacy group the International Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday there had been 352 attacks in 2011 up to the end of September.

“Figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea in the past nine months are higher than we’ve ever recorded in the same period of any past year,” said bureau Director Pottengal Mukundan, who has monitored global piracy since 1991.

He said Somali pirates attacked 199 vessels this year, up from 126 for the first nine months of last year. But he also noted that fewer of their attacks were succeeding.

Only 24 vessels were hijacked successfully this year compared with 35 for the same period in 2010, the bureau said - a 12 percent success rate, down from 28 percent in 2010.

“Somali pirates are finding it harder to hijack ships and get the ransom they ask for,” said Mr. Mukundan, calling on the international naval forces now deployed in the area to be “maintained or increased.”

Robert Young Pelton, who monitors pirate activity for his website Somaliareport.com, told The Washington Times the decrease is largely due to improved onboard security measures, like blocking access points from the sea with barbed wire and hardening engine control rooms so that crews can hide while awaiting rescue.

But he warned that Somali pirates, thwarted in hijacking larger vessels by new security measures, are turning increasingly to kidnapping tourists and seizing smaller vessels like fishing boats.

“You can get $4.5 million for a bulk container,” he said, “but that might take you months or even a year” to negotiate and get the money.

A Western tourist is worth as much as half a million dollars, he said.

“The pirates are creative,” he said. “They are entrepreneurial - they morph. Every time we stop them, they come up with something new.”

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