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November 7, 2005

IMB calls for naval protection against pirates

The recent attack on the Seabourn Spirit off Somalia has drawn public attention to a problem that has been widely recognized by the maritime community. Now the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has joined the voices of those appealing for naval protection against pirates.

After a quiet spell of nearly two years, says the IMB, serious attacks by heavily-armed pirates have resumed: 25 in the past six months. In one incident a ship was lured into danger by pirates firing bogus distress flares.

Somalia occupies a strategic location on the Horn of Africa. To the north is the Red Sea and the Suez Canal with its heavy traffic of shipping between Europe and Asia. The former Italian colony is close to anarchy, without a functioning national government for the past 14 years.

Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the IMB, appealed to naval vessels in the region to come to the aid of ships under attack.

"At the very least," he said, "they can prevent the hijackers from taking these ships into Somali waters. Once the vessels have entered these waters the chances of any law enforcement is negligible."

Unless international action is taken against the pirates, Captain Mukundan added, Somalia could become a haven for criminals "who may feel encouraged to extend their activities in the wider region."

Elsewhere on the high seas, the IMB reported fewer attacks: a worldwide total of 205 in the first nine months of 2005, compared with 251 in the same period in 2004. But this slight fall will not ease the fears of ships' crews of a sudden assault by determined gangs. In the period under review, 259 crew members were taken hostage, ten were kidnapped and 12 are missing.

The coastal waters of Indonesia remain a danger spot, with 61 incidents. In the Malacca Straits, quiet for two months after the tsunami of December 2004, ships are again on alert, with ten attacks since February. The IMB reports two other areas of concern: attacks on ships off Basra oil terminal in Iraq, despite the nearby presence of naval ships; and attacks around Bonny River in Nigeria.

The IMB Piracy Reporting Center is recognized throughout the maritime industry for its valuable work in quantifying the problem of world piracy and providing assistance, without charge, to ships that have been attacked.

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