Kuala Lumpur: Piracy on the high seas rose to unprecedented levels in 2008, due to the hijacking crisis off Somalia where pirates are now better armed and more violent, a maritime watchdog said Friday.
“The 2008 statistics surpass all figures recorded by the piracy reporting centre since it began its worldwide reporting function in 1991,” said International Maritime Bureau (IMB) director Pottengal Mukundan.
“This is due primarily to the situation in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden with a total of 42 vessels hijacked and 815 crew taken hostage,” he said in an annual report.
Thirteen of those vessels are still being held along with 242 crew.
Across the globe, 49 vessels were hijacked in 2008, 889 crew were taken hostage, 11 were killed and 21 are missing and presumed dead, while another 46 vessels were fired on.
The IMB said that the past year had seen more audacious attacks, including the seizure of a giant supertanker, and raids carried out further from shore than ever before.
It said that pirates are “better armed and prepared to assault and injure the crew” and that the number of incidents in which guns have been used had jumped to 139, from 72 in 2007.
The maritime watchdog, which responds to pirate attacks from its reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, praised the role of the international coalition of navies that has been patrolling the area in a bid to protect shipping.
“We... hope that more governments will continue to devote more assets to the region and provide adequate Rules of Engagement to naval commanders to allow them to actively deploy in seizing pirate vessels, arms and related equipment.”
In its annual report, the IMB said attacks off the east coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden had risen by nearly 200% to 111 in 2008, while worldwide the tally rose just about 11% to 293.
Nigeria ranked second as a piracy hot spot, with 40 reported attacks, five hijackings and 29 crew members kidnapped last year.
However, the IMB said that Indonesia had improved its record with attacks declining from 121 in 2003 to just 28 last year.
And the Malacca Straits, which just three years ago was deemed the most dangerous waterway in the world by Lloyds of London, reported a drop from seven incidents in 2007 to just two in 2008.