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Pirates set new hostage taking record

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piratePirates captured 1,181 seafarers and killed eight more last year, making 2010 the worst year on record for hostage taking at sea. The latest global piracy report from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau says that ships reported 445 attacks in 2010, up 10 percent from 2009. While 188 crew members were taken hostage in 2006, 1,050 were taken in 2009 and 1,181 in 2010.

According to IMB, hijackings off the coast of Somalia accounted for 92 percent of all ship seizures last year with 49 vessels hijacked and 1,016 crew members taken hostage. A total of 28 vessels and 638 hostages were still being held for ransom by Somali pirtaes as of December 31, 2010.

“As a percentage of global incidents, piracy on the high seas has increased dramatically over armed robbery in territorial waters,” said said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Center. “On the high seas off Somalia, heavily armed pirates are overpowering ocean-going fishing or merchant vessels to use as a base for further attacks. They capture the crew and force them to sail to within attacking distance of other unsuspecting vessels.”

Though attacks off the coast of Somalia remain high, the number of incidents in the Gulf of Aden more than halved last year, with 53 attacks, down from 117 in 2009. IMB attributes this to the deterrent effect of naval forces that have been patrolling the area since 2008 and to ships’ use of the self-protection measures recommended in the latest industry Best Management Practices (BMP 3).

“The naval units in the seas off the Horn of Africa should be applauded for preventing a huge number of piracy attacks in the region,” said Captain Mukundan. “The continued presence of international navies is vital in protecting merchant ships along these important trade routes.”

But Somali pirates are traveling further afield. In December 2010, they reached as far south as the Mozambique Channel and as far east as 72 degrees East longitude in the Indian Ocean, an operating range IMB says is unprecedented.

What can be done to stop the surge of piracy on the high seas? Captain Mukundan says all measures taken at sea to “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, violent attacks continued around Nigeria, with incidents concentrated near the port of Lagos. Overall, 13 vessels were boarded, four vessels fired upon and there were two attempted attacks.

In Bangladesh, the number of armed robbery incidents rose for the second successive year. Twenty-one vessels were boarded, mainly by attackers armed with knives. Almost all were anchored in the port of Chittagong.

Indonesia saw its highest levels of armed robbery against ships since 2007. Thirty vessels were boarded, nine attacks were thwarted and one vessel was hijacked. Vessels were underway in 15 of the attacks. The South China Seas recorded 31 incidents, more than double the previous year. Twenty-one vessels were boarded, seven attacks attempted, two vessels were fired upon and one was hijacked. The last quarter of 2010 was quiet, with only one reported incident.

January 18, 2011

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