(With agency report)
Sea attacks worldwide nearly doubled in the first three months of 2009, mainly due to increased pirate raids on vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the east coast of Somalia, an international maritime watchdog said last week, so says the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
According to the quarterly report which emanated from the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, the number of piracy attacks surged to an all time quarter high of 102 attacks in the first quarter 2009 compared to 53 incidents in the same period in 2008. This also represents an increase of about 20 percent over attacks that were recorded in the last quarter of 2008.
Reeling out the startling statistics, the report disclosed that “ships were boarded by pirates in 34 cases and nine vessels were hijacked, with 178 crew taken hostage, nine injured and two killed, it said in its quarterly report. In most cases, pirates were heavily armed with guns or knives and violence against crew members continued to rise”.
“The increase in the first quarter of 2009 is due almost entirely to increased Somali pirate activity off the Gulf of Aden and east coast of Somalia. These two areas combined accounts for 61 of the 102 attacks” and all the nine hijackings, the report said.
Analysts blame Somalia’s nearly 20 years of lawlessness for fueling piracy’s rise. The release of the IMB report coincided with the release by pirates of a chemical tanker and its 23 Filipino crew members Tuesday after holding them hostage in the Gulf of Aden for more than five months.
The IMB report said many hijacking attempts in the Gulf of Aden have been foiled by robust anti-piracy precautions by ships and patrols of the key waterway by an international naval coalition. In January, one in every six vessels attacked was successfully hijacked but the ratio increased to one in eight for February and one in 13 for March, it said.
NATO forces have helped fend off some attacks in recent days. In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said Monday they will seek authority for NATO to arrest pirates.
Some 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, each year.
“Pirates are now more desperate to hijack ships. Recent attack patterns revealed that pirates are attacking vessels far into the east and south coast of Somalia,” extending up to the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Madagascar, it said.
Pirates are believed to be using “mother vessels” that are parked far out into the sea to launch smaller boats to attack and hijack passing ships, it said. Somali pirates fire rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons “indiscriminately,” it said.