First, the good news: the London-based ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports a total of 67 incidents for the first quarter of 2010, with Somali pirates responsible for 35. The figure is down sharply from the 102 recorded in the same period last year. The bad news: Somali piracy is spreading, from the Gulf of Aden and the southern part of the Red Sea to the waters off Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, and even Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and Oman in the Arabian Sea.

Off the east and south coast of Somalia, there were 18 incidents, including five vessels hijacked and 11 fired upon, compared with 21, including four vessels hijacked and 11 fired upon, during the corresponding period in 2009. Within the Gulf of Aden and in the adjacent Red and Arabian Seas, even fewer attacks: a total of 17, including the hijacking of four vessels, compared with 41 incidents, including five ships hijacked, in 1Q/2009.

The grand score for the first quarter: 67 incidents, with 26 ships boarded, 18 fired upon, 12 figuring in attempted attacks and 11 hijacked. In all, 194 crew were taken hostage, 12 of them injured.

IMB Director Captain Pottengal Mukundan says attacks from the Somali coast have been possible only through the use of mother ships. Some of these have been destroyed by the navies operating in the area. “Such positive and robust action by the navies against mother ships, pirate skiffs and pirate action groups have been vital to keeping the attacks under control and must be sustained,” adds he.

The IMB 1Q/2010 report points to some bright spots. In other African waters, there were only two incidents although violence towards crews “remain high.” In one of the two attacks, two crewmen were injured and had to be taken ashore for treatment. No incidents were reported in the Malacca and Singapore Straits during the period, and there was only one attack off the coast of Bangladesh.

On the other hand, Indonesia saw a surge in piracy: eight incidents compared with just one during the same period in 2009. This was the highest quarter tally for Indonesia in two years, although the IMB notes that many of the recent incidents were “low-level attacks” against vessels at anchor or at berth. In such cases, standard precautionary measures and alertness on the part of the crew greatly help. But what if one’s ship is under way in the Indian Ocean, Somali pirates start firing their RPGs and there’s no friendly navy in sight? ~Barista Uno

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