The numbers are far from encouraging. The Kuala-Lumpur-based IMB Piracy Reporting Centre logged a total of 406 actual and attempted attacks world-wide in 2009, up 38.6% from the previous year. It was the first time since 2003 that the piracy figures surpassed the 400 mark and the third consecutive year of an uptick – from 239 incidents in 2006, 263 in 2007 and 293 in 2008. If this is war, it’s a formidable enemy and it’s on the offensive.

Pirates have not only become more brazen but more violent. Consider these statistics from the year past: 153 vessels boarded, 49 vessels hijacked, 84 attempted attacks, 120 vessels fired upon (versus 46 in 2008), 1,052 crew taken hostage, 68 crew injured and eight crew killed. The most talked-about, of course, are the Somali pirates. According to the IMB PRC, they were holding at end-2009 a total of 12 vessels for ransom with 263 crew as hostages. Moreover, they have extended their operations to places more than 1,000 nautical miles from Mogadishu, off Madagascar and in the Indian Ocean.

All this, however, has to be seen in perspective. There have been numerous instances in which the pirate attack was thwarted – thanks to an alert and properly trained crew, the master’s presence of mind, shipboard contingency plans, the presence of naval coalition forces (in the Gulf of Aden), private security escorts on board or just plain good luck. If not for these factors, the increase in the number of incidents would probably be exponential. Some gains have indeed been made by the world shipping community and various governments, and to say that they are losing the war may be inaccurate, if not unfair.

On the other hand, this is a protracted war. Only last 7th April, reports the IMB PRC, pirates boarded and hijacked a bulk carrier 415 nautical miles south of Mogadishu with 23 crew as hostages and sailed the vessel towards Somalia. The attacks are persisting in the Somalia/Gulf of Aden area and elsewhere. The war is not being won. Those who believe that it will soon be are kidding themselves – like then President George W. Bush declaring, on board the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, “mission accomplished’ and victory against Saddam 42 days after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. ~Barista Uno

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