Pirates took a record number of 1,181 hostages in 2010 and killed eight seafarers as attacks on merchant vessels hit a seven-year high despite increased naval patrols of the seas, the International Maritime Bureau said.
Somali pirates accounted for 49 of the 53 ships hijacked last year and took 1,106 crew members hostage, according to the London-based IMB.
A total of 445 attacks on ships were logged by the IMB’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, a ten percent increase on 2009 and the highest figure since the previous peak in 2003.
“These figures for the number of hostages and vessels take are the highest we have ever seen,” said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, head of the Piracy Centre, which has been monitoring pirate attacks since 1991.
“The continued increase in these numbers is alarming,” Mukundan said.
Heavily armed pirates operating in the seas off Somalia are over powering ocean-going fishing vessels or merchant ships 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,” Mukundan said.
The number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden more dropped more than 50 percent in 2010 to 53 from 117 in 2009 due to improved naval patrolling and safety measures taken by shipping companies.
But Somali pirates are now operating further offshore, reaching as far south as the Mozambique Channel in December and as far east as 72 degrees East Longitude in the Indian Ocean, an operating range that is “unprecedented,” according to the IMB.
“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,” Mukundan said.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991.
A total of 28 ships and 638 hostages were still being held for ransom by Somali pirates as of December 31, 2010, according to the IMB.
The number of attacks in the South China Sea more than doubled to 31 in 2010, while 21 ships were boarded in Bangladesh. Nigerian pirates boarded 13 ships, most near the port of Lagos with four being fired on.
Contact Bruce Barnard at firstname.lastname@example.org.