Pirate attacks around the world in 2005 fell to their lowest level in seven years, but showed a marked rise in Somalia and Iraq. The assessment was made by an international piracy watch agency based in Malaysia.

The Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur says global pirate attacks declined by 16 percent in 2005 from the previous year. The center says the 276 attacks represent the lowest annual figure since 1998 when 202 attacks were reported.

The deputy director of the affiliated International Maritime Bureau, Jayant Abhyankar says a major reason for the decline is that ship captains are taking more precautions.

"The credit has to be given to the masters of ships who are taking greater care now of following the instructions given by our piracy center, avoiding the danger areas, taking preventive measures," said Abhyankar.

He says a second reason is that law enforcement agencies are working harder to address the problem, especially in the strategic Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Mr. Abhyankar says attacks in the strait declined to 12 last year, from 38 the year before.

"That can only be attributed to the enforcement authorities from the littoral states, by them taking patrols and actually catching the pirates," he explained.

Pirates have long infested the small islands and bays of the narrow waterway through which pass one-third of world trade and half of Asia's oil shipments.

Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have increased cooperation, including joint patrols, air surveillance and information sharing, to track suspected pirates.

Nevertheless, Indonesia's 16,000 islands remain a haven for pirates. The country experienced the greatest number of attacks, 79, last year, though the figure declined from 94 incidents in 2004.

Pirate attacks also declined in many other countries, including the Philippines, Thailand, China, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Brazil, Colombia and Haiti.

However, Mr. Abhyankar says attacks have risen dramatically along the coast of Somalia, leading his agency to warn captains to stay at least 200 kilometers from shore.

"Somalia is a country [where] there is no government, no law enforcement," he said. "So the attacks have peaked this year to 35 in the last 10 months of 2005."

And the center reports growing piracy in southern Iraq, which experienced 10 attacks last year, compared with none the year before. Anti-piracy officials note that these attacks, mostly near the oil terminal at Basra, are occurring despite the presence of coalition navies, in particular those of Britain and the United States.

The piracy center reports that there were no deaths associated with pirate attacks last year, as opposed to 32 killings the year before. Officials attribute the decline to successful prosecution and convictions in several murder cases.

But the officials note that pirates took more than 400 sailors hostage last year, half of them in Somalia. They say pirates have discovered that holding crewmembers for ransom can be more profitable than selling captured cargo.