Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pirate Kidnappings Hit Record High in 2010


Pirates took a record 1,181 hostages in 2010 as ship hijackings increased off the coast of Somalia, a maritime watchdog organization reported today.

Attackers seized 53 ships last year -- all but four off Somalia -- according to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Across the world, there were 445 pirate attacks on ships last year, a 10 percent rise over 2009 and the fourth successive year that attacks increased.

"These figures for the number of hostages and vessels taken are the highest we have ever seen," Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre, which has monitored international piracy since 1991, said in a statement. "The continued increase in these numbers is alarming."

Somalia is the undisputed capital of international piracy. As well as boarding over 92 percent of all hijacked vessels last year, Somali gangs grabbed 1,016 of the hostages held for ransom throughout 2010. As of last December, the IMB reports that 28 vessels and 638 seafarers of various nationalities were being held captive in the country. Somali gangs killed eight crew members during raids last year.

The East African nation is the perfect pirates' nest. Somalia has lacked a functioning government since the collapse of its dictatorship in 1991, meaning pirates are free to set up bases along the country's long coastline. They can then easily set sail and intercept ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

The IMB notes that the recent deployment to the gulf of a multinational flotilla of warships -- including vessels from the U.S., U.K., Russia, France and many other countries -- helped halve the number of incidents in the busy shipping lane last year. However, pirates have responded by hunting for easy prey farther out to sea, targeting vessels in the Mozambique Channel and the Indian Ocean, a range the IMB says is "unprecedented."

Mukundan says the key to defeating these oceangoing criminals rests back 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," he said.

In Bangladesh, bandits boarded 21 vessels, most of which were anchored in the port of Chittagong. And in Indonesia, which has successfully cracked down on maritime crime over the past decade, attacks on ships reached their highest levels since 2007, with 30 vessels boarded and one hijacked.

The South China Sea suffered 31 piracy incidents -- more than double the number in 2009 -- with 21 vessels boarded.

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