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Maritime Pirate Attacks Increasing - 2003-07-24

The International Maritime Bureau says pirate attacks have increased sharply in the past six months, and attackers are becoming more violent. In the first six months of this year, pirates attacked more than 230 vessels, an increase of nearly 40 percent from the same time last year. It is the biggest jump since the International Maritime Bureau started compiling statistics 12 years ago.

Ships entering waters off Indonesia, Bangladesh and India run the highest risk of being attacked by pirates, according to a new report released by the bureau.

More attacks are not the only worrying trend. Reverend David Ellis, a senior chaplain who counsels victims of piracy, says attackers these days have guns and are not afraid to use them.

"If they do not find money on board, they make life difficult for the captain, the officers and the crew," he said. "And they are more likely to become violent if they can't get cash."

Eighteen sailors have been killed and nearly 200 taken hostage in the past six months. The number of people taken hostage was almost double that of last year.

Although pirates have been known to attack pleasure boats and small boats docked at port, Mr. Ellis says medium-sized tankers are the most common targets, since they are easy to board.

He says sailors who have been attacked are often left with serious psychological trauma.

"They face this problem perhaps on one occasion, then they know that their vessel may go through that area again," he said.

Mr. Ellis says some ships have set up electrical fencing around sailors' living quarters for protection. Others use powerful water guns to push attacking speedboats away.

While many pirate attacks happen at sea, ships are most vulnerable in port.

The International Maritime Bureau names 20 ports and anchorages in Asia that are prone to pirate attacks. By raising awareness of the piracy problem, the bureau hopes governments will improve law enforcement in high-risk waters.