South Africa Minister: Piracy Threatens Southern African Economies

JOHANNESBURG (Dow Jones)–Piracy is moving south, with the recent discovery of oil and gas off the Tanzanian coastline, posing a serious threat to southern African economies, South Africa’s Minister of Defense Lindiwe Sisulu said Monday, according to a transcript of her speech.

Piracy, long canned as a problem confined to countries bordering Somalia, is spreading, and South Africa is worried. Sisulu told leaders from the Southern African Development Community that six million tons of oil are transported around South Africa’s western coastline every month, making it a prime target for pirates.

The highest ever number of pirate attacks, 266, occurred in the first six months of 2011, up 70 attacks from the same period last year, according to a report released in July by the International Maritime Bureau.

The report said Somali pirates, who are responsible for 60% of global attacks, took 361 sailors hostage and kidnapped 13 in the first six months of 2011.

Attacks are disrupting Africa’s movement of crude oil and flow of goods, which heavily depends on trade by sea, Sisulu said. SADC leaders must take protection of southern African waters into their own hands to safeguard the nations’ economies, she said.

The consequences of attacks are heavy. Aside from costs of goods potentially lost, trading routes must be altered, insurance premiums must be increased and ransoms must be paid. In 2010, pirates intercepted a $162 million tanker of crude oil traveling to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia, and a $7 million ransom had to be paid for release.

Ransoms are higher than they were five years ago, Sisulu said. But more than that, oil and chemical tankers are being attacked by automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade launchers. A few years ago, pirates were just as likely to use a knife as a gun, the IMB report found.

-By Jenny Gross, Dow Jones Newswires