World sea piracy reached a five-year low in 2012, but experts do not expect risk statuses to change in affected countries.

There were 297 attacks on ships in 2012, compared with 439 in 2011, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reveals, adding that Somali piracy went down massively but that East and West Africa remain the worst hit areas, with 150 attacks in 2012.

However, Michael Kim, a shipping partner at DLA Piper, does not believe the reduction will change the risk profiles of the countries involved.

“Insurance premiums for shipping operators may have to be reduced in the long run. However, given that there will always be a risk of piracy off Somalia, I imagine the present status quo will be maintained and, despite the recent temporary reduction in piracy, I do not envisage much of a change in the near future,” he tells GTR.

174 ships were boarded by pirates last year, while 28 were hijacked and 28 were fired upon. The IMB also recorded 67 attempted attacks. The number of people taken hostage onboard fell to 585 from 802 in 2011, while a further 26 were kidnapped for ransom in Nigeria. Six crew members were killed and 32 were injured or assaulted.

“Crews must remain vigilant, particularly in the highly dangerous waters off East and West Africa,” says IMB director Pottengal Mukundan.

In Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, 75 ships reported attacks in 2012, compared with 237 in 2011, and the number of Somali hijackings was halved from 28 in 2011 to 14 last year.

The reduction is due to navies’ pre-emptive strikes and robust action against pirate mother ships, as well as private armed security teams, but the IMB insists that the threat and capability of heavily armed Somali pirates remains strong.

“The continued presence of the navies is vital to ensuring that Somali piracy remains low. This progress could easily be reversed if naval vessels were withdrawn from the area,” adds Mukundan.

A number of attacks were reported close to the Straits of Hormuz and the energy routes out of the Arabian Gulf, as pirates most commonly target container ships, bulk carriers and tankers loaded with oil or chemicals.

In West Africa, piracy is rising in the Gulf of Guinea, with 58 incidents recorded in 2012, including 10 hijackings and 207 crew members taken hostage. Guns were reported in at least 37 of the attacks in the area.

Nigeria registered 27 incidents in 2012, with four vessels hijacked, 13 vessels boarded, eight fired upon and two attempted attacks. The figure more than doubled from 10 incidents in 2011, including two hijackings. Togo has also seen an increase from five reports in 2011 to 15 in 2012, including four hijackings.

Increases were also recorded in Ivory Coast and Indonesia.