ON MAY 10th pirate-busters celebrated the fact that one year had passed since a ship was successfully seized by Somali hijackers. Pirates have been attacking vessels passing the Horn of Africa since at least 2005, when they received a $315,000 ransom for Feisty Gas, a ship owned by a company in Hong Kong. Since then, payments have risen continuously, reaching a high last year of $9.5m for the Smyrni, a Greek tanker, and her crew of 26. But since its capture on May 10th 2012, the pirates have not hijacked any more vessels. Why are the pirates at bay?
Though the spoils are rising, pirate attacks have been falling off. Just 75 attacks took place in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia in 2012, down from more than 200 in 2011. Currently, 71 sailors are being held hostage by pirates, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a body that monitors crime at sea; in early 2011, the figure was 758. Estimates for how much Somali piracy has cost the world economy range from $7 billion to $18 billion, the latest estimate by the World Bank. One theory is that the pirates have spent the past few months stock-taking, clearing their stock of hostages and ships before restarting their campaign. Another possibility is that their business model is shifting towards kidnapping foreign aid-workers and tourists on land.