Pirate attacks have reached their lowest levels in six years, with the situation at sea now said to be more risky for pirates than it is for shipowners.

“The single-biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa,” says Pottengal Mukundan, director of the ICC’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

According to the IMB’s annual global piracy report, 264 pirate attacks were recorded worldwide in 2013, a 40% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011. Just 15 incidents were reported off Somalia last year, down from 75 the year before and 237 in 2011.

The IMB says Somali pirates have been deterred by a combination of factors, including the role of international navies, the hardening of vessels, the use of private armed security teams, and the stabilising influence of Somalia’s central government.

“The East African shipping community is making it very difficult to be a pirate,” Stephen Askins, partner at Ince & Co tells GTR.

He believes that the report confirms pirates are more motivated by a lack of risk, than reward. “The rewards are still there, but the risks of being a pirate are much greater now than back in 2008/09,” he says. “The challenge for the shipping industry is whether, and for how long, to keep this new level of security.”

Askins is of the opinion that some shipowners may have already begun to compromise on certain security matters. “They’re beginning to steam slower, because it saves fuel; they’re not taking quite the same detour that they did before, and the actual risk continues to stay low,” he adds.

Askins refers to this behaviour among shipowners, where they believe that it has become too risky to be a pirate, as a type of “herd immunity”, but one which could be lost if just one vessel is taken in the region. “It will cause almost a disproportionate response,” he says. “It’ll drive prices back up on insurance, and the security world will get excited.”

The reduced attacks have brought kidnap and ransom insurance premiums down, although as Askins says, “they weren’t significant in the first place; so a 40% reduction is not a huge amount in monetary terms”.

What may be interesting, he says, is when, and whether, there will be a price adjustment on the “high risk” areas and the “additional premium” areas.

“We haven’t seen a pirate act east of 65 degrees for some time – does that mean the market will adjust that additional premium area? I don’t know. It’s a bit like the petrol prices: they go up quite quickly, but they don’t come down as fast.”

According to the IMB’s report, West African piracy made up 19% of the attacks last year, with Nigerian pirates and armed robbers accounting for the majority of these. “It’s not a new problem by any means,” says Askins, but rather a shift in focus now that the activity off Somalia has dropped below that of Nigeria.

The report also describes “low level and opportunistic” incidents off Indonesia, India and Bangladesh. Although 50% of all vessels boarded last year were in Indonesia, the IMB stresses that they ought not to be compared with the serious incidents off Africa.

A shipping source who wished to remain anonymous tells GTR that the reduced global figures raise questions as whether there’s a degree of under-reporting now or whether there was some over-reporting before. “Or maybe IMB is more sophisticated in the way they determine whether something is truly a piratical attack,” he adds.