The Problem






The issue of piracy against merchant vessels poses a significant threat to world shipping.  In 2011, there were 439 pirate attacks and 45 merchant vessels hijacked worldwide.  237 of these attacks and 28 of these hijackings occurred in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, and in the wider Indian ocean.  As of spring-2012 there have been more than 51 attacks off Somalia (121 worldwide), 11 hijackings off Somalia (13 worldwide), and over 158 hostages taken off Somalia. Currently, 12 ships and more than 170 seafarers are being held hostage by Somali pirates for ransom.  

Although liner vessels -- container ships and roll-on/roll-off vessels --  are generally considered to be at lower risk for hijackings because of their higher operating speeds and freeboard (height above the water), liner vessels have been consistently targeted by Somali pirates.  In 2010, 32 liner vessels were attacked and six were hijacked. In 2011, 65 liner vessels were attacked and one was hijacked. As of spring-2012, eight liner vessels have been attacked and one has been hijacked.

Somali pirates are now using hijacked merchant ships as mother ships to carry out attacks in the north Arabian Sea and near the coastline of India, more than 1500 nautical miles from Somalia.  Pirates operate multiple, high-speed skiffs to approach and fire on the bridges of vessels with automatic  weapons and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) in an attempt to slow or stop the vessels so the pirates can get on board.  Once a vessel has been hijacked, the pirates typically request a large ransom payment for the safe return of the crew, vessel and cargo. 

Finding Solutions

Successfully addressing this threat is a complex challenge for both governments and businesses. The World Shipping Council (WSC) and its member companies are working closely with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), other international maritime trade associations, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and various governments to closely monitor the ongoing piracy crisis in the Indian Ocean and to reduce the risk that commercial vessels transiting the affected region will be attacked and successfully hijacked. 

The WSC is  playing an active role in the development and revision of the industry Best Management Practices (BMPs)  for ships to prevent and respond to pirate attacks. Specifically, the BMPs call on vessels to communicate their intentions to transit the piracy high risk area to Naval Forces in the region and to employ vessel self protection measures based on a vessel-specific risk assessment.  The BMPs also provide ships with important steps to take if  boarded by pirates.  View or download a copy of the current (4th) version of the international BMPs.

To help address the piracy issue, the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 89) recently approved interim guidance to ship owners/operators for the use of private armed guards on ships operating in the high risk area, and draft interim recommendations to flag states on the use of private armed guards. 

More Government Action is Needed

In an effort to increase the governmental response to the Somali piracy crisis, the leading maritime shipping associations and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) have initiated the "Save Our Seafarers" campaign, in which governments are asked to take the following steps to eradicate piracy at sea and ashore:

  • Reduce the effectiveness of the easily identifiable pirate mother ships.
  • Authorize naval forces to detain pirates and deliver them for prosecution and punishment.
  • Fully criminalize all acts of piracy and the intent to commit piracy under national laws in accordance with their mandatory duty to cooperate to suppress piracy under international conventions.
  • Increase naval assets available in the area.
  • Provide greater protection and support for seafarers.
  • Trace and criminalize the organizers and financiers behind the criminal networks.

For more information about the "Save Our Seafarers" campaign, click here.


To learn more about the Somali piracy crisis, please click on the following links:

International Maritime Organization Piracy Site

International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre

Maritime Security Centre -  Horn of Africa

EU Naval Forces Counter Piracy Site

NATO Shipping Centre Piracy Operations

U.S. Coast Guard Counter Piracy Site

U.S. Maritime Administration Piracy Advisories