23 October 2008 20:03 [Source: ICIS news]
IMB said the Gulf of Aden and waters near the Horn of Africa are now the world's most dangerous, accounting for 63 of the 199 reported pirate attacks worldwide between January and September 2008.
In the same period of 2007 there were 26 attacks blamed on Somali pirates out of 198 global attacks, IMB said.
"Piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia are unprecedented," IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement.
"It is clear that pirates in the Gulf of Aden believe that they can operate with impunity in attacking vessels."
Somali pirates freed a chemical tanker, the M/T Irene, and its entire crew on 9 October, reportedly for a ransom of $1.6m (€1.25m), according to media reports.
Irene was the second chemical tanker hijacked by pirates in recent months. The M/T Stolt Valor, a Hong Kong-operated ship, was seized on 15 September and remains held by the pirates.
The types of attacks, the violence associated with them, the number of hostages taken and the amounts paid in ransom have all also increased, according to a report released by the agency's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.
While Somali piracy has soared, the number of worldwide ship attacks was virtually unchanged, the report said.
Piracy has declined in Indonesia, which reported just 23 attacks in the first nine months of 2008 compared with 37 a year ago, and in Bangladesh and waters off South America, IMB said.
The agency said 51 of the 63 attacks off Somalia occurred in the gulf as pirates shifted their focus to large vessels passing through the vital sea lane that connects Asia, Africa and Europe.
Of those attacks, 26 vessels were hijacked, and 12 ships with more than 250 crew were still in pirate hands at the end of September.
The agency called for serious action to be taken against the mother ships of the pirates before they succeed in hijacking vessels.
NATO has dispatched a flotilla of warships to help US ships already patrolling the area.
Russian officials said on Tuesday that a warship, the Neustrashimy, is passing through the Suez Canal on the way to the region.
A maritime official said pirates this week hijacked another ship near Somalia, an Indian vessel with 13 crew members aboard, according to the Associated Press.
Somali pirates presently are holding at least 11 ships for ransom, including a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 Soviet-era tanks that was seized late last month.
Pirates reportedly are demanding a ransom of at least $8m for release of that vessel, MV Fania.
($1 = €0.78)
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