Hostage Oversupply in Somalia? Pirates Negotiate Better Deals to Free Up Space

Somali pirates may have reached their limit, at least for now. Security agencies have suggested that Somali pirates are willing to negotiate lower ransoms to release ships they have seized -- because they are running out of room.
The British Royal Navy intercepts a gang of pirates off Somalia. But pirate groups may have more hijacked ships than they can handle.

The British Royal Navy intercepts a gang of pirates off Somalia. But pirate groups may have more hijacked ships than they can handle.

Foto: Reuters/ MoD/ Crown Copyright

Somali pirates have made large swathes of the Indian Ocean a no-go area, but lately they've become victims of their own success. Security agencies report that pirate groups are more willing to negotiate the release of captured vessels lately -- in large part, experts believe, because their ports at Haradheere, Eyl and Hobyo are choked up with ships.

The pirates are reportedly looking for quicker deals, and seem willing to accept lower ransoms, if it means the ships can be moved on.

Ransoms demanded by pirates have skyrocketed since hijackings off Somalia became an international crisis in 2008. A recent study by the One Earth Future foundation claims the average paid ransom rose to $5.4 million in 2010, from $3.4 million in 2009. Seafarers aboard the cargo vessels were also held hostage up to three times longer while pirates and shipping companies negotiated -- from an average of 55 days in 2009 to 150 days in 2010.

But those numbers appear to have reached an upper limit, at least for now, experts say.

Two Years of Patrols

Two years of naval patrols by a vast range of countries have done little to quell piracy. Germany has warships in the region as part of a wider EU force, and although the navies intercept many hijackings, the pirates have stepped up the number of overall attempts.

In 2010 there were 445 attacks worldwide, most of them off the coast of Somalia, and 1,181 sailors kidnapped -- up 10 percent from 2009. Currently, Somali pirates are holding at least 33 ships, with more than 700 crew members captive.

That includes a German ship, the Beluga Nomination, owned by a Bremen shipping firm. During a botched attempt  to free it from pirates at the end of January, two crew members and one pirate were killed, and another sailor drowned trying to flee.

The most recent victim was the Greek freighter Dover, which fell into the hands of Somali pirates last Monday.

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