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Warships save vessels as Somali pirates persist

Pirates resume their daring attacks on shipping vessels after weather off the Somali coast improves, a maritime official says.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pirates have resumed their daring attacks on shipping vessels after weather off the Somali coast improved, a maritime official said Wednesday, but warships in the area and precautions taken by mariners themselves have helped thwart the attempted hijackings.

Cyrus Mody at the International Maritime Bureau said international forces intervened in two attacks on Saturday. The pirates resumed their activity in mid-September after about a six-week break.

"Since the attacks resumed after the monsoon subsided there have been no successful hijackings off Somalia, which is a very positive step," Mody said. "We attribute this very largely to the actions of the naval forces in the area and better mariner preparedness."

A Turkish frigate intervened after the Panamanian-flagged Handy V came under fire from pirates in two small skiffs Saturday. The crew fired parachute flares at them before locking themselves in the bridge and contacting coalition ships for assistance. The same day, a Saudi Arabian warship sent a helicopter to assist the Greek-owned Panamax Peppo after it was chased by pirates.

Pirates having a tougher time
The number of attacks has already surpassed those during all of 2008, but the rate of successful hijackings has remained steady, showing that the pirates are having a tougher time in commandeering a ship once they launch an attack. In 2008 the pirates' success rate was nearly 38 percent, while this year it is about 20 percent, according to IMB figures.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet said there have been 146 attacks this year already. Of those attacks, 32 have been successful, IMB said. Last year there were 111 reported attacks and 42 successful hijackings, according to IMB.

The increase in attacks comes despite a much heavier naval presence and the creation in January of the U.S.-led Combined Taskforce 151, a force especially dedicated to fighting piracy. Rear Adm. Scott Sanders, its commander, told The Associated Press last month that stronger countermeasures by merchant crews — including special armed units — are cutting the ability of pirates to storm the ships.

Sanders said 80 percent of foiled pirate attacks are accomplished by merchant crews without help from military vessels.

‘The pirates will keep trying’
Somalia remains mired in chaos, with splits appearing among both the Islamist insurgent alliance and the unstable coalition government. One faction of the insurgency recently publicly allied itself to al-Qaida, guaranteeing foreign nations will continue to pump arms into the impoverished nation.

"It is not the warships who can stop the pirates, it is the people ashore who can stop the pirates," said Mody. "The pirates will keep trying."

But Somalia has not had a functioning government for 18 years and is unlikely to be able to police its lawless coasts anytime soon.