Chris Horrocks, secretary-general of the International Shipping Federation, says the current position worldwide is better than in some recent years, particularly 2000, when attacks peaked at more than 450 a year.
But piracy can emerge suddenly in any area.
"When attacks hit a peak in 2000, at that time Somalia was just a blip on the radar screen," Mr Horrocks says. "Then it becomes a big problem. Piracy tends to be a feature of areas where there is either lawlessness or real economic deprivation and it's very difficult to eradicate."
Attacks in some areas have also become more sophisticated. Mr Horrocks compares the shift with a progression from mugging to organised crime. Attackers in the Malacca Strait now often kidnap crew or hijack vessels because they know owners will pay a ransom.
The pirates that attacked the Seabourn Spirit, meanwhile, appear to have launched their fast boats from a larger mother ship. The cruise ship's master had thought that, at 100 miles off the coast, he was out of their small boats' range.
Yet the shipping industry, Mr Horrocks admits, can do little about the risks except ensure that ships keep a good lookout and press governments to act. Improved intergovernmental co-operation has reduced the Malacca Strait problems, while better international naval patrols have helped to control the Somali problem.
"Piracy is a constant concern of the shipping industry," Mr Horrocks says. "If things are somewhat better now, we should be thankful for that. But we should not be in any sense encouraging governments to drop their guard."
Sunday, August 13, 2006
As set out here, piracy at sea is a continuing worry: