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Sea Piracy on the Rise, Warns Watchdog Group - 2003-05-01


An international maritime watchdog says worldwide sea piracy hit an all time high during the first three months of 2003, and Indonesian waters were the world's most dangerous.

Sailing on the high seas has become riskier than ever, with more than 100 pirate attacks on ships reported worldwide during the first quarter of this year. The number is up from 87 during the same period last year.

The International Maritime Bureau, or IMB, says this is the highest number of pirate attacks ever recorded during a three-month period since the bureau began keeping records more than a decade ago.

Indonesian waters were listed as the most dangerous during the three-month period, with 28 of the 100 attacks. Indonesia was followed by Bangladesh, India, and Nigeria, each of which reported 9 attacks during the period.

On a more positive note, the IMB says long prison sentences handed down to convicted pirates in China and India may help curb the growing problem.

The IMB report cited a seven-year prison sentence recently given by an Indian court to 14 Indonesian pirates convicted of hijacking a Japanese owned freighter in international waters. The report called the stiff sentences a "breakthrough."

Pottengal Mukundan, an IMB director, said in London that similarly stiff sentences handed down to 10 Indonesian pirates by a Chinese court last February may help to deter future pirate attacks.

"It will certainly curb the serious attack which is the hijacking of ships," he said.

The report also noted that some countries have been boosting security in their waters to head off both piracy and possible terrorist attacks.

Captain Pottengal says the threat of terrorist attacks at sea remains high around Indonesia, which has active terror cells said to be linked to the al-Quaida terror network.

"It is a threat and it is particularly a threat off the coast of Indonesia we believe," he said. " Because we know there are terrorist cells operating there and the Indonesian coastline borders one of the major waterways into Asia."

The Malaysian authorities have beefed up patrols in the Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, in a bid to deter possible terrorist attacks.

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