KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Sea piracy worldwide dropped 28 percent in the first quarter of the year as attacks fell sharply in Somalia's waters thanks to international naval patrols, an international maritime watchdog said Monday.
Pirate attacks intensified, however, in Nigeria and Indonesia.
The number of worldwide attacks from January to March dipped to 102 from 142 cases in the same period in 2011, the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur said. It said 11 vessels were hijacked and 212 crew members taken hostage, compared with 18 ships seized and 344 people taken hostage a year earlier.
In Somalia, there were 43 attacks, including nine vessel hijackings, compared with 97 attacks a year ago. The agency attributed the decline to "disruptive actions and pre-emptive strikes" by navies in the region.
Multiple navies – including a large U.S. presence – patrol the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean, and many private ships now carry armed guards.
The European Union Naval Force recently said it would expand its mission to include Somalia's coast and waterways inside the country for the first time, making its battle against piracy more proactive.
"It is unlikely that the threat of Somali piracy will diminish in the short to medium term unless further actions are taken," the agency said. "The EU announcement to expand their anti-piracy mission to target pirates ashore is another welcome move that could further threaten the Somali piracy model."
As of the end of March, suspected Somali pirates still held 15 vessels and 253 crew members, with an additional 49 crew members hostage on land, the agency said.
On Monday, Italy's Foreign Ministry said Somali pirates had freed the 18-member crew of an Italian tanker hijacked off Oman four months ago.
Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi didn't say if any ransom was paid for the release of the crew of the "Enrico Ievoli."
Elsewhere, pirate attacks intensified in Nigeria and Indonesia.
Pirates attacked 10 vessels off Nigeria in the first quarter, equaling the same number reported for the whole of last year. The agency said Nigerian pirates were also responsible for an attack in neighboring Benin during the period.
It said Nigerian pirates were going further into sea to attack ships and that the level of violence against crew was dangerously high. London-based Lloyd's Market Association, an umbrella group of insurers, last year listed Nigeria, Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia.
The agency said pirate attacks in Indonesian waters rose to 18 from five in the first quarter last year.