Hostages targeted as pirate attacks rise

High-seas pirate attacks have risen in the first three months of this year. Incidents are becoming more violent and the rate of hostage-taking has doubled.

Elisia Yeo

Friday, May 12, 2006

High-seas pirate attacks have risen in the first three months of this year. Incidents are becoming more violent and the rate of hostage-taking has doubled.

The International Maritime Bureau recorded 61 piracy attacks worldwide in the first quarter of 2006 compared to 56 in the period last year and called for continued efforts to battle the scourge. "The bureau warns that the international shipping industry should not be tempted to drop its guard," it said.

More than two-thirds of the 61 attacks took place in Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Gulf of Aden in the Red Sea, Somalia and Nigeria, according to the IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

The rate of violence, including deaths, assaults and threats, also shot up during the period to a total of 87 incidents against 48 in 2005.

The IMB said 63 crew members had been taken hostage so far in 2006, more than double the 31 hostages in the first quarter of 2005, while another 13 had been held for ransom.

One person was killed in a January incident in the Philippines where five pirates attacked a fishing vessel. "The master of the fishing vessel was shot dead and another crew member was shot in the leg," the IMB said.

The waters off Indonesia continued to be the most pirate-prone in the world, accounting for 19 or over a third of the attacks during the period.

Pirates also plagued hotspots off the coasts of Nigeria and Somalia, which has seen attackers with guns and grenades firing at ships and giving chase.

Noel Choong, head of the Piracy Reporting Centre, said Somali pirates accounted for nearly two-thirds of hostage-takings in the first three months of the year. "Somalia is the most dangerous areas in terms of violence," he said.

In one harrowing account reported to the IMB, Somali pirates with machine guns and rocket launchers repeatedly shot at Turkish bulk carrier until they ran out of ammunition. "The pirates then restocked ammunition from a nearby wooden fishing boat and resumed firing." The Turkish vessel was finally rescued by a warship.

But India and the Strait of Malacca, whose infamy as a piracy-prone area has earned it an insurer's listing as one of the most dangerous waterways, "showed a remarkable improvement."

There have been no attacks reported in either region so far in 2006, the IMB said, attributing the improvement in the Strait of Malacca to stepped-up law enforcement and security measures from Indonesia and Malaysian authorities.

Also Wednesday, the Philippines responded to a call from Beijing for Manila to investigate an attack on a Chinese fishing boat in disputed waters in the South China Sea. Four crewmen were killed. A Philippine foreign affairs officials said Chinese authorities had told them they were uncertain of the nationality of the attackers or their vessel as it "had no flag or identifying marks." AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE