- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2012

Criminal gangs have stepped up attacks on ships off Africa’s west coast, even as similar incidents involving Somali pirates off the continent’s east coast have declined sharply, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

“Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is becoming increasingly dangerous,” with 34 incidents reported in the first nine months of this year, up from 30 last year, the bureau said Monday in a report.

Togo reported more attacks this year than in the previous five years combined. Attacks also were reported off Benin and Nigeria.

The International Maritime Bureau said these attacks are often violent and aimed at stealing refined oil products, which can be sold easily on the open market.

Pirate gangs have proliferated, and navies in the area are ill-equipped to fight piracy far out at sea.

However, international navies have helped to dramatically reduce the number of attacks by Somali pirates off Africa’s east coast, the bureau reported.

The number of ships attacked by Somali pirates dropped to its lowest level since 2009.

In the first nine months of this year, 70 attacks by Somali pirates were documented compared with 199 for the same period last year.

The U.S. has played a key role in fighting Somali pirates.

“Fighting piracy is a vital element of the United States’ strategic objectives in Somalia,” according to the State Department.

In April 2009, Navy sharpshooters killed three Somali pirates in a dramatic rescue of an American cargo ship captain who had been held hostage.

Somali pirates killed four Americans in their yacht in February 2011 as the U.S. attempted to negotiate their release.

The International Maritime Bureau warned seafarers to remain vigilant in the “high-risk” waters around Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

“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 Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau.

At the end of September, suspected Somali pirates were holding 11 vessels for ransom with 167 crew members as hostages onboard. Twenty-one crew members were being held on land.

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