KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Sea piracy worldwide fell by 54 percent in the first half of 2012, led by a dramatic drop in Somali piracy, an international maritime watchdog said Monday.
The International Maritime Bureau attributed the sharp drop to "pre-emptive and disruptive counter piracy tactics" by international navies patrolling in seas off Somalia as well as increased vigilance by ships including hiring private armed personnel on board.
The bureau said 177 attacks were reported worldwide from January to June, down from 266 in the same period last year. It said 20 vessels were hijacked worldwide, with 334 crew members taken hostage and at least four crew members killed.
Attacks off Somalia's coast plunged to 69 in the first six months, down from 163 over the same period a year ago, it said. Somali pirates also hijacked fewer vessels with 13 seized, down from 21.
"The naval actions play an essential role in frustrating the pirates. There is no alternative to their continued presence," said IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan. He warned that Somali pirates remained a serious threat, with 11 vessels and 218 crew members still in their hands as of late June.
The bureau said the decline in Somali piracy was partially offset by intensified and violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea off western Africa, where 32 cases including five hijackings were reported, up from 25 last year. Nigeria reported 17 cases, nearly triple the number from six years ago. Togo reported five attacks including the hijacking of a tanker, up from no incidents in the same time last year, it said.
The bureau said guns were reported in at least 20 of the 32 incidents in the Gulf of Guinea. At least one crew member was killed and another later died as a result of an attack. It said attacks by armed pirates in skiffs were occurring further from the coast, suggesting the possible use of fishing or other vessels to reach targets. London-based Lloyd's Market Association, an umbrella group of insurers, last year listed Nigeria, Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia.
Elsewhere, the bureau said attacks have mainly been armed robberies, with Indonesia reporting 32 cases, up from 21 a year ago.