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In Asia, High Seas Piracy Remains a Risk - 2002-07-25

A new report shows piracy on the high seas remains a risk worldwide. The International Maritime Bureau's study says that some of the riskiest areas are off the coast of Indonesia.

The International Maritime Bureau (IBM) says modern pirates can be broken down into two categories opportunists and organized gangs. The opportunists will rob any ship they can. Most often they target a ship's crew for their valuables and cash, but leave the cargo alone. The IMB's deputy director, Captain Jaeyant Abhyankar, says criminal gangs that hijack ships are the most dangerous. "They know precisely what ships to target, with the cargo they sell easily in the market, [they are] well-armed, well-informed and very well organized." The maritime bureau, based in Malaysia, has issued a new report that says pirates hijacked at least 14 ships in the first half of this year. That is up from 12 ships a year ago. Overall, there were 171 pirate attacks in the first half of 2002. That is up from 165 attacks in the first six months of last year.

In Southeast Asia, pirate attacks are most common in the seas around Indonesia. The IMB reports that 25 percent of this year's attacks took place near the Indonesian archipelago. Captain Abhyankar says that is easy to explain. "First of all, its geographical feature, thousands of islands, large population, relative poverty … and I think historical connection with piracy. Piracy used to be accepted socially although taken as criminal act but still accepted socially as a means of living," says Mr. Abhyankar. "All those factors put together, added on to the political instability which you have seen over the last few years, might provide the answer."

The pirates' methods have changed little over the years. Many are just armed with knives although some pirates use guns. Captain Abhyankar says the best defense against hijacking may be new technology. "In case of hijacking, you have the answer in technology. Maybe satellite tracking systems. If the ship does go away from its normal route then an alarm will sound and the ship can be tracked and recaptured within hours."

The report says pirates most frequently attack cargo ships but pleasure yachts are also at risk.