A maritime watchdog says worldwide incidents of sea piracy rose this year as pirates, most of them based in Somalia, extended their reach to attack merchant ships from the Middle East and Asia and hold their crews for ransom.
The International Maritime Bureau says there were 266 pirate attacks worldwide in the first half of this year, a 36 percent increase from last year.
The London-based group says most incidents still occur off the coast of Somalia, near the Horn of Africa.
Pirates, fearless and unwavering
But the IMB's director, Pottengal Mukundan, says Somali pirates are increasingly bold and determined. He says they are now using hijacked merchant ships to increase their range of attack against other vessels.
"Now the attacks are taking place to the East and the North of the Gulf of Aden," noted Mukundan. "That is the crossroads where the trade routes from the Arabian Gulf and the trade routes coming from Asia meet. And, you know, you have very vulnerable vessels carrying 300,000 tons and more of crude oil, for example, from the Arabian Gulf coming down south toward the Cape of Good Hope which has to pass through this area."
The group recorded also recoded some 50 piracy incidents for Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore Straits and the South China Seas.
But Somali pirates account for the 60 percent of the worldwide total.
Mukundan says pirates in the last two months alone attacked 14 times in the southern part of the Arabian Gulf, a vulnerable choking point for shipping through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea.
To deal with the increasing attacks, the International Maritime Bureau says the region’s naval presence needs to be increased.
But Mukundan says a military response is not the only solution. “On the other hand, it is very important that supportive action is taken in south central Somalia from where these pirates are coming in order to improve the living conditions there so that there is less incentive for these young Somalis to go out to sea with all its attendant dangers in order to commit piracy,” he said.
Despite the increasing number of attacks the maritime watchdog says anti-piracy efforts, including patrol ships and armed on-board guards, have decreased their rate of success.
Somali pirates took 21 ships so far this year compared to 27 in the same period last year.