Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 5 News List

High-seas piracy growing more high-tech, deadlier

DANGEROUS WATERSIndonesia has once again topped the International Maritime Bureau's blacklist with the highest number of attacks so far this year

REUTERS , LONDON

Piracy on the high seas has reached record levels and Indonesian waters are the most dangerous in the world, an ocean crime watchdog said yesterday.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said the number of reported ship attacks leaped to 344 in the first nine months of this year, 26 percent more than the 271 recorded in corresponding period last year.

"This is the highest number of attacks for the first nine months of any year since the IMB Piracy Reporting Center began compiling statistics in 1991," said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, the bureau's director.

Pottengal said there had also been an alarming rise in violence, with pirates using high-tech weaponry including sub-machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, and knives.

It said 20 crew had been killed compared with six in the same period last year. Cases where guns had been used jumped to 77 from 49, and knives from 99 to 115.

"This increase in violence is of great concern. Despite all the information now available on piratical attacks, there are hardly any cases where these attackers are arrested and brought to trial. It is only when the pirates face a greater risk of getting punished that we will begin to see a reduction in these figures," Pottengal said.

Indonesian waters once again top-ped the blacklist, recording the highest number of attacks with 87 incidents reported. Bangladesh was ranked second highest with 37 attacks.

Attacks in the Malacca Straits, one of the most strategically important passages of water in the world, jumped to 24 from 11 last year. Thirty percent of the world's trade and 80 percent of Japan's crude oil is transported through the narrow corridor between Malaysia and Indonesia.

The bureau also warned recently that politically-motivated forces could be behind some piratical attacks. It said separatist rebels from Indonesia's Aceh province could be behind a surge in attacks on oil tankers in the Straits.

In July it reported three attempted boardings in less than a week, with pirates firing automatic weapons at two gas tankers and an oil tanker.

Western intelligence agencies and maritime security experts have gone further. Some have linked al-Qaeda, or militant groups associated with it, to Indonesian acts of piracy. Some experts say al-Qaeda showed its nautical strategy and sophisticated seaborne attack capability by bombing the Limburg oil tanker off Yemen last year and US warship USS Cole in 2000.

Jemaah Islamiyah, a group whose goal is to create an Islamic state enveloping Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the southern Philippines, has also been fingered by experts as capable of hijacking a supertanker and exploding it in the Straits.

African waters too are high-lighted as dangerous, particularly off the coast of Somalia. Attacks in waters off Nigeria soared 300 percent to 28 from nine last year.

By contrast the IMB said the record of countries such as Ecuador, Guyana, Malaysia and Thailand had shown a marked improvement. It said Malaysia was incident free in the last three months. It also reported a decrease in hijackings.

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