In response to increased naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden, pirates in Somalia are venturing hundreds of kilometers out to sea to seize vessels. The change in tactic has allowed pirates to successfully hijack numerous ships in recent days, including a private yacht with a child on board.
Since the beginning of April, pirates have successfully seized at least a half-a-dozen vessels off the coast of Somalia in a surge of activity that has not been seen in months.
The director of the International Maritime Bureau in London, Pottengal Mukundun, told VOA the maritime community is alarmed not only by the number of vessels seized in such a short period, but where some of the hijackings are taking place.
"I think the important change has been the fact that there are now attacks taking place hundreds of miles southeast of Mogadishu. And that is the big change," he said.
Mukundun said pirates have become active in the region of the Seychelles and Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, where there are no international naval patrols.
On Saturday, pirates hijacked a German container vessel with more than 20 crew members more than 740 kilometers off the southern Somali port city of Kismayo. Two days later, a Taiwan-flagged fishing trawler with 29 men aboard was taken in waters near Denis Island in the Seychelles.
On April 2, pirates, operating more than 1,000 kilometers southeast of the Somali coast, attacked a luxury British ship, carrying western tourists. None of the tourists were taken hostage, but the ship was seized along with its seven-member crew.
In 2008, pirates attacked more than 120 commercial and private vessels, mostly in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen at the mouth of the Red Sea. The narrow waterway is vital to ships carrying goods between Europe and the Far East.
The disruption of trade and shipping in the Gulf of Aden prompted more than a dozen countries to send naval forces to escort ships and to protect shipping lanes. Their efforts in thwarting pirate attacks have been credited with significantly reducing the number of successful pirate boardings there for the first three months of this year.
But journalist David Hughes of Maritimenet.org said dispatching warships to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean is simply not an option.
"You cannot really do too much over such a widespread area as the northern Indian Ocean. You can in the Gulf of Aden, where there is a bottleneck. But you cannot start escorting every ship down the east African coast or across the northern half of the Indian Ocean," he said.
In a reminder of the limitations of naval operations even in the Gulf of Aden, pirates hijacked a large Italian-operated bulk carrier there early Monday.
Meanwhile, officials in France said they know the location of a French yacht hijacked Saturday by pirates off the northeast coast of Somalia. The yacht, carrying two couples and a three-year-old boy, was more than 640 kilometers off the Somali coast when it was seized.