At the end of a year in which the World Maritime Day theme of “Piracy: orchestrating the response” has been central to the work of IMO, the Organization can look back on 12 months of relatively good progress that have laid the foundations for cautious optimism about the future.

Recently compiled statistics show that the number of ships and seafarers held captive by Somali pirates have reduced from a peak of 33 and 733 in February to 13 and 265 respectively, at the beginning of December. The number of reported attacks has also declined from a high of 45 per month in January 2011 to 14 for the month of November 2011; and the proportion of successful attacks has been cut from 20 percent in January 2011 to just 7 percent in November 2011.

Throughout 2011, IMO engaged at the political level (mainly through the UN Security Council) to bring about a solution to the piracy problem and thus facilitate and expedite the release of seafarers and any other persons held hostage. In addition, the Organization intensified its work to strengthen the protection of persons (seafarers, fisherman and passengers), ships and cargoes in piracy-infested areas and also preserve the integrity of shipping lanes of strategic importance and significance, such as the Gulf of Aden.

Improvements were made to the accessibility and distribution of IMO guidelines and industry best management practice guidance; steps were taken to ensure that ships’ crews are aware of how to access naval protection and implement effectively the preventive, evasive and defensive measures recommended by IMO and the industry. The Organization also addressed the issue of carriage of privately contracted armed security personnel aboard ships and developed guidelines on the subject, involving, in this particular instance, flag, port and coastal States.

IMO helped promote greater levels of coordination among navies, and further co-operation between and among States, regions and organizations. Information-sharing, the coordination of military and civil efforts and the development and implementation of regional initiatives, such as the IMO-led Djibouti Code of Conduct, were at the heart of the Organization’s work. The establishment of information sharing centres in Dar es Salaam, Mombasa and Sana’a and the laying of the foundation stone of the building set to house a regional training centre in Djibouti were significant, tangible steps towards building regional capability to counteract pirate activities.

Working with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other agencies, IMO also undertook initiatives to build the capacity of States, in piracy affected regions and elsewhere, to deter, interdict and bring to justice those who commit acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships, working to enhance maritime law enforcement and the safety of life at sea. Helping States develop their maritime law enforcement capacities and protect their maritime resources was another key element of IMO’s work during 2011.

During the year, IMO maintained close co-operation with the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and communicated with the Executive Head of the World Food Programme (WFP) concerning the potential for chartering bigger, faster ships to deliver food aid to Somalia, and shortening the distances they are required to run through pirate-infested waters.

According to IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, “The work the Organization has done to promote an orchestrated response to piracy during 2011 has been wide-ranging and far-reaching and the statistics suggest that it is beginning to have a positive effect.  Although we should welcome the good news of the falling numbers of ships and seafarers falling in the hands of pirates (which allows us to claim that the outgoing year was not wasted), there is still a lot of work to be done: even one seafarer at the hands of pirates, is one too many.  It is for this reason that we cannot become complacent, and should be particularly concerned about signs that piracy and armed robbery may be beginning to spread to other parts of the world, in particular to west Africa.”