Continued increase in piracy incidents 'alarming'

Pirates kidnapped a record number of seafarers in 2010 in an “alarming” escalation of the crisis centred on Somalia, a maritime watchdog said on Tuesday.

Across the globe, pirates hijacked 53 ships and kidnapped 1 181 seafarers last year, while eight sailors were killed by the increasingly heavily armed attackers, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in a report.

“These figures for the number of hostages and vessels taken are the highest we have ever seen,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre, which has monitored incidents worldwide since 1991.

“The continued increase in these numbers is alarming.”

Hijackings off the coast of lawless Somalia accounted for 92% of all ship seizures last year, with 49 vessels captured and 1 016 crew members taken hostage, the IMB report said.

Somali pirates were still holding 28 vessels and 638 hostages for ransom as of last December.

The IMB said the number of pirate attacks on ships globally has risen every year for the past four years, with 445 incidents reported in 2010, up 10% from 2009.

In 2006, 188 crew members were taken hostage, rising dramatically to 1 050 by 2009 and 1 181 in 2010.

In the seas off Somalia, heavily armed pirates were overpowering ocean-going fishing or merchant vessels to use as bases for further attacks, Mukundan said.

“They capture the crew and force them to sail to within attacking distance of other unsuspecting vessels,” he said.

International naval forces
While attacks off the coast of Somalia remain high, incidents in the Gulf of Aden more than halved last year to 53 due to the presence of international naval forces, the IMB said.

“The continued presence of international navies is vital in protecting merchant ships along these important trade routes,” Mukundan said.

However, Somali pirates have responded by travelling further afield, including venturing to the Mozambique Channel and the Indian Ocean, an operating range which “is unprecedented”.

Mukundan said the key to defeating the Somali pirates lies primarily on land.

“All measures taken at sea to limit the activities of the pirates are undermined because of a lack of responsible authority back in Somalia from where the pirates begin their voyages and return with hijacked vessels.”

Elsewhere, the number of maritime armed-robbery incidents in Bangladesh rose for the second successive year. Twenty-one vessels were boarded, almost all anchored in the port of Chittagong.

Indonesia, a former global piracy hotspot, which had succeeded in reducing the level of maritime crime, saw its highest levels of attacks against ships since 2007, with 30 vessels boarded and one hijacked.

The South China Sea was hit with 31 piracy incidents, more than double the previous year.—AFP


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