But the pirates' area of operations remains very large, as using motherships they cover a vast area that stretches from the Seychelles and the Maldives to the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea.
A recent attack making the news took place near the Strait of Hormuz, and highlighted both the pirates' extended operating range and the effectiveness of embarked security teams. (Click the various "Enrica Lexie" and "Pirate" or "Piracy" links in the Categories list on the right side of the page for background information.)
MAERSK TEXAS was attacked in the Gulf of Oman (see map at bottom of post) by "numerous skiffs" that converged on the ship. The crew undertook action according to their Vessel Security Plan and fired warning shots. It's claimed the pirates then fired on the ship, when the armed guards returned fire, driving the skiffs off. The excellent gCaptain site has a good story with an exclusive response from Maersk - or click on the photo above to access that.
Maersk and a spokesman for Combined Task Force 151, LCDR Mark Hankey, were unable to confirm the Iranian contribution, but it would not be surprising given broad anti-piracy cooperation in the region. Iran and the US, bitter enemies in other arenas, have cooperated to help each other in past piracy incidents. The Iranian Navy also stormed and freed MV XIANGHUAMEN recently.
So, embarked armed guards remain un-scored upon versus the pirates - although, according to one source, the pirates are upping their game with more sophisticated weapons (click "Pirates Up Ante" in the Categories list). I've read that about 40% of ships passing through the area off East Africa now use armed guards.
It's possible that a campaign of shore-directed attacks, as the EU seems set to pursue, could sap pirate gangs' reserves and their ability to operate at long distances. But as long as the pirates' range of operations remains as large as it is, naval units will have difficulty meeting the threat. That leaves armed guards as the only entirely successful strategy deployed to date.
And as the ENRICA LEXIE saga amply shows, properly implementing armed guards within a viable security response plan is vitally important if they are not to do nearly as much harm as good. It sounds as though Mearsk has got that part right!
As always, we want to hear from you, especially if you're on the scene or have passed through pirate waters recently. Please comment and let us know what you've seen and heard!