Thu, Oct 22, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Bureau reports rise in global pirate attacks this year

AFP , KUALA LUMPUR

Members of a team from the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio and US Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91104 dump bags of illegal narcotics over the side of a vessel they boarded off the coast of Somalia last Thursday. Anzio is the flagship for a multinational task force that conducts counter-piracy operations.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Global pirate attacks so far this year have already exceeded the number recorded last year, and attackers are much more likely to use firearms, a maritime watchdog said yesterday.

“The increase in attacks is directly attributed to heightened piracy activity off the Somali Coast ... and in the Gulf of Aden,” the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in a report.

Incidents off the coast of lawless Somalia rose to 47 during the first nine months of this year from 12 in the same period a year ago, while in the Gulf of Aden there were 100 attacks compared to 51.

Globally, there were 306 incidents reported to the IMB’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur for the first nine months of the year, compared with 293 for the same period last year, and just below the record of 344 set in 2003.

However, the IMB said the rate of successful hijackings had dropped substantially this year, to an average of one in nine vessels targeted by pirates compared with one in 6.4 last year.

“In 2008 there were a lot of successful hijackings but in 2009, because of increased naval patrols, although the number of attacks has increased their success in getting the ships has decreased,” reporting center chief Noel Choong said.

However, the report showed that the number of incidents in which guns were used had risen by more than 200 percent so far this year, indicating that attackers were more determined than ever.

The IMB said Somali pirates have also extended their reach, “threatening not only the Gulf of Aden and the East Coast of Somalia but also the southern region of the Red Sea, the Bab el Mandab Straits and the East Coast of Oman.”

Since last year a flotilla of foreign warships has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden, one of the busiest maritime trade routes on the globe, which has been plagued by piracy in recent years.

“The naval vessels operating off the coast of Somalia continue to play a critical role in containing the piracy threat,” IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said.

“It is vital that regions in Somalia such as Puntland continue to take firm action in investigating and prosecuting the pirates. This will be a far better deterrent against Somali pirates than prosecution and punishment in a foreign country,” he said.

Elsewhere, the IMB said, Nigeria remains an “area of high concern” and that while 20 attacks had been recorded so far this year, the real figure was likely to be twice as high.

Chittagong port in Bangladesh has also seen a rise in attacks, with 12 this year compared with nine last year.

Also, “the South China Sea has once again proven to be an area of concern and enhanced risk, with 10 incidents reported so far in 2009. This is the highest recorded number of incidents in the corresponding period over the last five years,” the IMB said.

The watchdog said that globally, 114 vessels were boarded and 34 hijacked during the first nine months of the year. A total of 661 crew members were taken hostage, six were killed and eight are missing.

Attacks fell in the third quarter of the year compared with the first half of the year, but the IMB said the decrease was because of monsoon conditions that make the seas too rough for pirates to operate in their small boats.

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