A reduction in pirate attacks off Somali in recent months seems to have had more to do with the weather than the effectiveness of naval patrols that were reinforced in late 2008. As the weather has improved, attacks have escalated and what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to this week as "the scourge of piracy" is as serious as ever. In one of the latest incidents the US-flagged Maersk Alabama was hijacked and although its crew regained control of the ship, its captain was taken hostage by pirates who escaped in one of the ship's lifeboats. On Saturday, Somali pirates seized another vessel, this time a tugboat in the Gulf of Aden with 16 crew members on board, 10 of them Italians. The Times reported: "On any day, there are between 15 and 20 warships on counter-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden from different navies that range from the United States and Britain to Russia, China and India. To underline the concerns that piracy have raised, there are three separate organisations involved - the US-led Combined Task Force 151, Nato and the European Union with Operation Atalanta. Countries such as Russia and China are not part of these operations, but apparently there is good communication between all the warships. "To make their job slightly easier, all merchant ships are advised to use the special international transit corridors - one going east, the other, west - across the Gulf of Aden where the foreign warships can then concentrate their efforts. There have been successes. Of the 40 attacks this year, ten were foiled by the intervention of one or more of the warships. A military helicopter hovering over the hijack-area is often more than enough to send the pirates fleeing." Roger Middleton, a piracy expert from Chatham House said: "the navies have fallen victim to their own success. The effectiveness of the patrols in the Gulf of Aden seem to have caused the pirates to refocus their attentions on the western Indian ocean. "One other factor lies behind the recent successes of the pirates: the weather. Very bad at the beginning of the year, it has now improved enough for pirates to get alongside targets with ease. "Now hijackers are threatening an area of up to two million square miles, they are much harder to locate. European, US and other navies are still overwhelmingly concentrated off Somalia's northern shore, hours or even days journey away from the recent attacks. "Although the pickings may be slimmer and the sea more dangerous in the ocean the pirates have found an easier place to work and the western Indian Ocean may soon be as notorious as the Gulf of Aden." Mohamed Mohamed, a Somalia analyst for the BBC says pirate gangs usually draw on three sources of expertise. They include former fishermen whose knowledge of the sea makes them the brains of the operation, secondly former militiamen who bring their fighting skills from the civil war, and thirdly technical experts who can operate the essential technical equipment for modern-day piracy - satellite phones, GPS navigation and military hardware. Ret Marine Major General Tom Wilkerson, CEO of the United States Naval Institute said: "the Combined Task Force simply can't fulfill its mission to deter piracy. The vastness of the sea makes it too difficult to track pirates. We can't stop them on water, so we need to take action to eliminate the pirates' land-based sanctuary." "It's a real smack in the face that an American-led international task force couldn't prevent the first seizure of an American vessel in over 200 years. The last time it happened, the US took the fight to the pirates' home bases, which we should again consider," Wilkerson said, referring to the Barbary Wars in the early 1800s. Last year, The New York Times interviewed Sugule Ali, a spokesman for pirates who had hijacked a Ukranian freighter loaded with military hardware. "In a 45-minute interview, Mr Sugule spoke on everything from what the pirates wanted ('just money') to why they were doing this ('to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters') to what they had to eat on board (rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, 'you know, normal human-being food'). "He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood. 'We don't consider ourselves sea bandits,' he said. 'We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.' " The Chicago Tribune reported last October: "Somalia's lawless coastline has been ravaged by unscrupulous outsiders with impunity since the Somali government collapsed in 1991, experts say. "In the early 1990s, for example, Somalia's unpatrolled waters became a cost-free dumping ground for industrial waste from Europe. Fishing boats from Italy were reported to have ferried barrels of toxic materials to Somalia's shores and then returned home laden with illicit catches of fish. Rusting containers of hazardous waste washed up on Somali beaches as recently as 2005, after a powerful tsunami roared through. "But fish poaching has proved far more devastating to Somalis, environmental officials say. " 'It's been like a long gold rush for Thai, European, Yemeni and Korean boats,' said Abdulwali Abdulrahman Gayre, the vice minister of ports and fisheries for Puntland, a dusty, semi-autonomous state in northern Somalia that is the bastion of the pirates. " 'We have some of the richest fishing grounds in the world,' said Gayre. 'Scientists say it is like a rain forest of fish. But our fishermen can't compete with the foreigners in big ships who come to steal from our waters.' "Somalia, like all maritime countries, has legal rights over an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles to sea. And though it has no navy to enforce its control, it theoretically owns the fish and minerals in that area. "Many of Somalia's angry fishermen have picked up rifles and joined the pirate mafias that have seized more than two dozen vessels off the Somali coast so far this year, maritime security experts say. " 'It's almost like a resource swap,' said Peter Lehr, a Somalia piracy expert at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and the editor of Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism. 'Somalis collect up to $100 million a year from pirate ransoms off their coasts. And the Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million a year in fish from Somali waters.' "Lehr said at least 700 Somalis go to sea as pirates, usually in small speedboats that operate from mother ships. He said the criminal activity is bolstered by a massive shore-based infrastructure - boat repairers, food suppliers, security guards - that directly involves 10,000 to 15,000 people."