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18 July 2024

Maritime hijackings hit unprecedented levels

In October and November last year there were 15 and 16 vessels attacked respectively. (AFP)

By Ashaba K Abdul Basti

Incidents of piracy against ships in global waters went up more than 11 per cent in 2008, compared to the previous year, said the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC).

In its annual piracy report released last week, it said the 2008 figures surpass all figures for hijacked vessels and hostages taken, recorded by the PRC since it began its worldwide reporting function in 1992.

In 2008 there was a worldwide total of 293 incidents of piracy against ships, compared to 263 in 2007. In the same year 49 vessels were hijacked, 889 crew taken hostage and a further 46 vessels reported being fired upon.

Thirty-two crew members were injured, 11 killed and 21 missing and presumed dead. Guns were used in 139 incidents, up from 72 in 2007.

"The increase is attributed to the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden with 111 incidents reported on the east coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden," said the PRC.

The rise peaked in September with 19 attacks. In October and November there were 15 and 16 vessels attacked respectively, leading to an increase of nearly 200 per cent from 2007.

Also 2008 saw the largest tanker being hijacked by Somali pirates, and successful attacks being carried out at greater distances from land than in previous years.

All types of vessels with varying freeboards and speeds were targeted. The pirates boarding the vessels were also better armed than in previous years and prepared to assault and injure the crew.

"We are encouraged by recent efforts to tackle Somali piracy and hope more governments will continue to devote more assets to the region. International navies are the only ones capable of effective response against piracy in the region and can help secure the safety and security of this major maritime trade route," said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the ICC International Maritime Bureau.

Nigeria ranked second in the report with 40 reported incidents including 27 vessels boarded, five hijackings and 39 crew members kidnapped.

The PRC said it was aware of approximately 100 further unconfirmed incidents that have occurred in Nigeria. It said under-reporting from vessels involved in incidents in the Nigerian waters remains a great concern.

On the positive side, there have been declines in other regions.

"Indonesia should be applauded for its sustained efforts in curbing piracy and armed robbery in its waters," said Mukundan. "Compared to 2003 when 121 attacks were reported, there has been a continued year-on-year decline with 28 incidents reported in 2008, majority of which were opportunistic, low-level attacks."

The Malacca Straits has also seen a reduction in the number of incidents reported – only two in 2008 compared to seven in 2007 due to increased vigilance and patrolling by littoral states and continued precautionary measures on board ships.

Bangladesh (Chittagong) and Tanzania (Dar es Salaam) have shown a few similarities in the method of attacks with vessels at anchor and those approaching the anchorage targeted.

Robbers in Chittagong mainly steal ship stores, while in Dar es Salaam cargo is the target. Of the 14 vessels attacked in Dar es Salaam, 12 were container ships.

Bangladesh has shown a slight increase in the number of attacks with 12 attacks reported compared to last year 10 in 2007. "It has taken the Bangladeshi authorities considerable effort to bring the number of incidents down and this pressure on the robbers should be sustained," said Mukundan.

IMB advised shipmasters to maintain strict anti-piracy watches especially while approaching these anchorage and while anchored.

It also strongly urged all shipmasters and owners to report all incidents of actual and attempted piracy and armed robbery to the IMB PRC "This is the first step in the response chain and vital to ensure that adequate resources are allocated by governments to deal with the problem," it said adding that a set of transparent statistics from an independent, non-political, international organisation such as the IMB PRC acts as an effective catalyst to achieve this goal.