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Shippers Look for Innovative Ways to Fight Maritime Terrorism - 2003-01-30

Piracy and maritime terrorism are on the rise, but shippers are finding new ways to fight back.

The International Maritime Bureau says last October's attack on a French supertanker in the Gulf of Aden shows that ships have become vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

One crewmember was killed and 90,000 barrels of oil were spilled into the sea after a small boat loaded with explosives slammed into the tanker.

The Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Office in Malaysia says countries must secure their ports. In its annual report on piracy, the bureau warns that tankers approaching ports in the Middle East, Indonesia, and Pakistan should be aware of the threat of terrorism.

The report said there has been a steep increase in ship hijackings. Twenty-five ships were hijacked last year, up from 16 in 2001. The total number of attacks worldwide rose to 370 in 2002, up from 335 in 2001.

Indonesia continues to be the riskiest place for ships. Last year, there were 103 attacks in Indonesian waters. Sixteen more occurred in the adjacent Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Other countries and regions experiencing piracy attacks in 2002 include Bangladesh with 32 followed by India with 18. There were 11 piracy attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Jayant Abhyankar, the deputy director of the International Maritime Bureau in London, says more is being done to combat piracy.

"Let me put it this way," he said, " until about 10 years ago countries used to refuse to accept that piracy was a problem. They thought it was something not to be talked about. Nowadays they are being more pro-active about it, discussing it at various regional meetings. They are increasing patrols and let us hope their efforts succeed. "

The report also draws attention to the new initiatives being used to combat piracy.

"We now have technology to help us. … Now we have gadgets like secure fences which can guard the ship," he explained. "And that will protect the ship from being hijacked and from being boarded by pirates. You have satellite-tracking devices that are being fitted on ships. So all these things together should make an impact."

Despite the progress in fighting piracy, 10 seafarers died in 2002 and 24 went missing after their ships were attacked.

The Maritime Bureau's report says the number of attacks around the Malacca Straits, Malaysia, and India dropped last year because of increased patrols by enforcement agencies.