American diplomat Donna Leigh Hopkins credited the combined efforts of international naval forces and increased security on ships, including the use of armed guards. But she also pointed to the jailing of 1,140 Somali pirates in 21 countries, “which started de-glamorising piracy”.
Somali pirates hijacked 46 ships in 2009, 47 in 2010, but only 25 in 2011, an indication that new on-board defences were working. In 2012, there were 75 attacks reported off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden – down from 237 in 2011 – and only 14 ships were hijacked, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
“Pirate attacks are down by at least 75%,” Hopkins said. “There are still pirate attacks being attempted but there has not been a successful hijacking since May 2012,” she said. “12 May will be the one-year anniversary of no successful hijacking off the coast of Somalia.”
On Wednesday, the UN discussed combating pirates at a meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy, off the Coast of Somalia, which includes more than 85 countries as well as international organisations and private-sector representatives.
Hopkins, the group’s chairman, and the Danish ambassador, Thomas Winkler, who leads its legal committee, stressed there was no room for complacency, citing havens for pirates on the northern Somali coast and million-dollar ransoms to release hijacked ships and crews that continue to attract young men to piracy.
Winkler said prosecuting more than 1,000 pirates and transferring them to Somali prisons, where conditions are grim, appeared to be having a preventive effect.
“The number of active pirates is perhaps 3,000,” Winkler said. “So if you put a thousand behind bars, and 300-400 die every year at sea from hunger (or) drowning … you will quickly come down.”
Hopkins said ships from Nato, the EU, China, Russia and other countries have succeeded in disrupting and discouraging Somali pirates but they still roam the Indian Ocean, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden looking for vessels to attack.
The last successful hijacking – on 12 May 2012 – was of the MV Smyrni, a Greek-registered tanker less than two years old and loaded with crude oil worth tens of millions of dollars. It was released after 11 months of negotiations and payment of “a record-breaking ransom nearing $15m”, Hopkins said.
“In my opinion, it is a poster child for what happens when ship owners don’t employ the best management practices … to prevent your ship from being hijacked,” she said. “They did none of them, and they got exactly what one might expect. They got hijacked and they paid a very heavy price for it.”
Hopkins said that while “not a single ship that has employed armed security has ever been hijacked”, there were also many other security measures that have proved effective, including training crew and posting lookouts.
When asked how optimistic he was that there would not be a hijacking before 12 May, she said: “I’m not going to count days. Every day without a successful attack is a good day.”