SOMALI PIRATES ARE BECOMING MORE AUDACIOUS, thrusting deep into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to threaten vital oil exports from the Gulf at a time when upheaval across the Arab world has caused global uncertainty about supplies and pushed up prices.
Three supertankers were seized in the first three months of this year, the first time since the piracy plague began in 2007 that such a number has been reached.
"If piracy in the Indian Ocean is left unabated, it will strangle these crucial shipping lanes with the potential to severely disrupt oil flows to the United States and to the rest of the world," Joe Angelo, managing director of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, declared on 9 February.
"We want to see a significant increase in government will to eradicate piracy in this area, and not just contain it."
Intertanko members own the majority of the world's tanker fleet. So far this year, 38% of pirate attacks have been on oil tankers because they yield the biggest ransoms.
Shipping Industry associations say that more than 40% of the world's seaborne oil passing through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea is now at risk from the increasingly sophisticated and highly organised Somali pirates, with high-value oil cargoes a particular target.
The London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which monitors international shipping, reports that piracy hit an all-time high in the first quarter of 2011 with 142 attacks worldwide, mostly by the Somali sea bandits.
Of the 97 attacks pinned on Somali pirates, up from 35 in the equivalent period in 2010, 37 were on tankers, including 20 with a dead weight of more than 100,000 tons, the bureau said.
"Figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea in the last three months are higher than we've ever recorded in the first quarter of any past year," said Pottengal Mukandan, director of the IMB's piracy-monitoring bureau in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The "dramatic increase in the violence and the techniques" employed by the Somali marauders put large tankers carrying oil or inflammable chemicals at serious risk, he stressed.
As of March, Somali pirates had attacked 640 ships and taken more than 3,150 hostages, according to US government statistics.
As the pirates concentrate their attacks close to the oil-rich Gulf, calls are mounting for tougher action against the marauders. "The pirates are progressively becoming the masters of the Indian Ocean," Jack Lang, a former French...