ANALYSIS-Warships and weather hamper Somali pirates

Mon Jan 19, 2009 9:57am GMT

By Andrew Cawthorne

NAIROBI Jan 19 (Reuters) - The floating corpses with their bedraggled bounties of dollar bundles were a chilling symbol to the pirates and a grim victory of sorts for shippers.

The five drowned hijackers washed up off central Somalia this month, pockets stuffed with cash, after capsizing when they took their share of a $3 million ransom for a Saudi tanker.

Despite such perils, Somali pirates who enjoyed an unprecedentedly prosperous 2008 are eager to repeat their success this year, but an array of warships from 14 nations is starting to make that more difficult.

"It is still too early to talk of a definite trend, but there has been a reduction in the frequency of hijackings and that is a good sign. We attribute it largely to the naval activity," International Maritime Bureau director Pottengal Mukundan told Reuters.

"The attacks are still happening, however, so we need the naval forces to commit for a long time."

Pirates have hijacked only two ships this year, a fall in frequency from the second half of 2008 when piracy soared.

A record 42 boats were seized off Somalia throughout last year, with a total 815 crew members taken hostage, according to figures from the IMB, a shipping watchdog.

After a string of negotiated releases in recent days, 11 ships are still held with 207 hostages, the IMB says. Most boats are at a pirate's haven and coastal village called Eyl.   Continued...

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