LONDON — Somali pirates hijacked the fewest merchant ships since 2004 last year as armed guards and naval patrols helped deter and repel attacks on a trade lane linking Europe to Asia.
The number of vessels seized off the East African country’s coast fell to two last year from 14 in 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, a London-based group tracking sea crime, said in a report on Wednesday.
Last year’s tally was the smallest since 2004, data from the bureau show. The decrease helped to drive global piracy down to a six-year low.
Private armed guards, naval intervention and other on-board security measures combined with greater stability in Somalia to cut attacks, according to the bureau.
The cost of Somali piracy to the global economy was about $6bn in 2012 and $7bn the year before, according to Oceans Beyond Piracy, a project of the Broomfield, Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation. The pirates had targeted ships that were sailing to or from Egypt’s Suez Canal, a waterway that handles about 4.5% of the world’s oil trade.
“Ship transits in the region have been applying the best management practices effectively, which deters pirates from attacking,” Giles Noakes, chief maritime security officer at the Baltic and International Maritime Council in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, the world’s largest shipping association, said before the report was released.
The slump in attacks near Africa’s eastern shores is being countered by a gain in strikes off the continent’s western coast. Pirates took 49 people hostage and kidnapped 35 off Nigeria, the most since 2008.
“Pirates in West Africa often target specific ships to steal part of their cargo,” said Phillip Belcher, London-based marine director at the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners.
“They also attack ships to steal money and personal effects from the crew.”