If you are new to this topic there is some good background here in the form of advice from the International Sailing Federation intended primarily for yatchsmen. “ISAF Warning Letter”.
Too early to tell if this is a trend, but the pirates seem to be changing their tactics attempting to swamp the defenses of even armed vessels by using as many as twelve skiffs, “Pirates Hunting in Packs.” Chart here. This incident took place near Somali shores where it is easier to gather a large number of boats.
Frustrated by an armed guard while it was under way, pirates subsequently seized a chemical tanker after the armed guard had left, while the ship was anchored in port in Oman, taking 21 hostages. Chart here.
The pirates seem to be extending their reach to operate beyond the waters patrolled by naval forces. There is a report that they may now be exploiting a business arrangement with the remnants of the Tamil insurgency to allow them to operate south of India in the vicinity of Sri Lanka, “Recommended Reading “Deadly Business”-at American Shipper.”
Piracy also seems to be spreading to the Gulf of Guinea on Africa’s Atlantic coast where oil is the prize.
A report carried by the Associated Press quoted Bergen Risk Solutions, a Norway-based consultancy:
“Our investigations indicate that the organized group responsible is based in Nigeria and has high-level patronage in that country,” it said, with prominent Nigerians having often been accused of involvement in the lucrative black market for oil and fuel. This cargo, Bergen suggests, has been sold in: “several West African ports, possibly including Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire and Port Gentil in Gabon.”
There are some indications that there is a recognition of the problem and a desire to address it, “Steps toward and Iintegrated African Coastguard” and “West African Piracy Cooperation.”
The Naval Institute blog has a “feel good” story of how an attack was thwarted by the cooperative efforts of British and American forces, “MV Caravos Horizon Rotorheads and the Royal Navy in Maritime Security Operations,” by LCdr B. J. Armstrong. If you want to know more about the Navy’s MH-60S which was involved, there is more info here. The unfortunate aspect, is that these pirates are still free to go on to molest other ships. Another telling of the story here.
Prosecuting pirates has been difficult. The US has done it, but many countries operate under a “catch and release” philosophy. At least the Dutch have begun to act forcefully.
Armed Security Teams:
Their record remains unblemished, in that no ship with an armed security team has ever been taken by 21st century Somali pirates. In regard to the use of armed teams on merchant ships, the most common counter-argument is that this will raise the level of violence. Here is a counter to that, pointing out, that has not been the case, and in fact if the level of violence is increasing, it has been due to the actions of military forces in the area. “Lloyds List, Piracy and the Armed Deterrent.”
Is Congress more of a threat than pirates?:
There was an interesting discussion here that puts the piracy problem in perspective, “Pirates vs. Congress: How Pirates Are a Better Bargain.”
Getting at the root of the problem:
There is some indication that the US may be attempting to get at the roots of the piracy problem, which are of course on shore in Somalia. “U.S. steps up clandestine operations in Somalia”