Shifting Area and Tactics

Attacks on merchant ships are on the rise again.Last year, pirates captured 53 ships in the region, up from 51 in 2009, according to the Combined Maritime Forces, overseeing operations. There were 160 attempted attacks in 2010, up from 145 the year before.

Not only are the pirates more active, they are also adapting their tactics so they can prey on merchant ships farther out at sea and evade naval forces, according to the Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain.

The new tactic by pirates illustrates the challenge in protecting sea lanes, said Australian navy Capt. Tony Aldred, director of operations for the forces.

“The pirates have actually changed the way they do business,” Aldred said. “They are operating far more broadly across an area that’s about 2.5 million square miles.”

Aldred said the naval force, with the help of merchant shipping companies, has been successful in reducing piracy from 2008 levels when a spike in attacks led to the creation of the international force.

He also said naval forces are disrupting more attacks. Last year 169 attempts were disrupted, up from 62 the year prior.

The shift in tactics has showed the resiliency of pirates, who have made millions of dollars from ransoms.

Pirates are now using “mother ships,” which are able to travel thousands of miles before finding a target and then launching smaller skiffs that pirates use to board merchant ships, said Eric Thompson, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. “That magnifies the challenge of covering that territory,” he said.

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