Somali pirate attacks sharply down in November

A Royal marines team boarding a suspected pirate vessel in the Indian Ocean on 28 November 2011. Of last month's 12 recorded attacks, only one was partly successful

The number of hijackings by Somali pirates was sharply down last month compared to the same period last year.

The latest figures provided by the European Naval Force show just 12 attempted pirate attacks in November 2011, compared to 35 last year.

BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner says this is partly the result of the growing number of armed guards on board ships.

But at least 200 hostages are still being held in or just off Somalia.

Our correspondent says Somali pirates appear to be finding it increasingly difficult to hijack vessels at sea.

EU Navfor, the European Naval Force that patrols the western Indian Ocean, says that of last month's 12 recorded attacks, only one was partly successful.

That compares to 35 attacks in November last year, of which seven were successful.

Naval officers told our correspondent this was down to a combination of factors.

More and more ships are now carrying armed guards, many vessels are better protected with razor wire and water cannon, and there has been an increased number of naval interceptions of pirate boats, known as 'skiffs'.

Britain is to allow UK-flagged ships to carry armed guards next year.

But as of today, at least 200 sailors and eight ships are still being held for ransom, on or close to, the Somali coast.

As the monsoon winds that deter pirates subside, attacks on shipping are expected to rise once more.

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