The Somali pirates continue to pose a major threat to all ships in the Indian Ocean.
The pirates cover and operate in a huge area, from the southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Oman to the Arabian Sea and Somali Basin, all the way down to Mozambique.
All ships, from private yachts and fishing boats to huge commercial vessels, entering this area are at risk; and, besides risking the life of the crew and the safety of the ships and their cargo, the Somali pirates have seriously affected East Africa's trade with the rest of the world.
However, lately some good progress has been achieved in different areas.
Actually, according to a fresh report from the International Maritime Bureau, the number of pirate attacks have fallen sharply in the first half of 2012; dropping from 163 incidents in the first six months of 2011 compared with 69 incidents for the corresponding period in 2012. The number of "successful" attacks has also reduced; the hijacked and captured vessels went down from 21 to 13.
The increased deployment of armed guards onboard most commercial vessels has also been very helpful; in particular this has reduced the number of successful incidents, as the vessels with armed guards now have the means to defend themselves against the armed pirates.
Yet, as of 30th June 2012, according to IMB's report, the Somali pirates were still holding 11 vessels and 218 crew, 44 of whom were being held ashore in unknown locations and conditions.
Measures on land
It is evident that the Somali pirates are still costing the East African traders, and thereby the consumers and the man-on-the-street, millions of U.S. Dollars every year.
It is also evident that despite all the various measures taken out at the Indian Ocean, any real and lasting solutions to the whole piracy problem have to be achieved on land.
Undoubtedly the ongoing efforts by the African Union troops are providing both direct and indirect improvements also with regards to piracy; and the further general improvements in Somalia anticipated over the coming months and years will surely further improve the situation.
On 7th August 2012, seven Somali men were found guilty by a Kenyan court of attempting to commit an act of piracy against a French fishing vessel off the Somali Coast back in October 2009. The EU Naval Force had subsequently located and detained the pirates as the EU NAVFOR happened to conduct some nearby patrols. All seven pirates were found guilty and they were each sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in Kenyan jails.
It is evident that the whole piracy activity is rather well organized, and often managed by investors and businessmen onshore, who actually finance and organize how and where the pirates will operate, besides they mange the whole process of eventually negotiating the ransom and releasing of crew and vessels.
Regardless of all this, it is essential that all efforts to fight and minimize piracy, on all fronts, are maintained.
The writer has nearly 35 years of experience in the international shipping industry.