Piracy Hits New Heights

Tuesday, June 19, 2001
Pirate attacks rose 57 percent in 2000, and were nearly four and a half times higher when compared with 1991 according to a report by the ICC's International Maritime Bureau (IMB). In its annual Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships report for 2000, the IMB — a division of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) — reports a total of 469 attacks on ships either at sea, at anchor or in port.

The violence used in the attacks also rose to new levels, with 72 seafarers killed and 99 injured in 2000, up from three killed and 24 injured the previous year. The number of hostages taken halved to 202 seafarers. Ships were boarded in 307 instances, and a total of eight ships were hijacked.

The figures, compiled by the IMB for January to December 2000, show an alarming rise in piracy and armed robbery in Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Malacca Straits, India, Ecuador and the Red Sea. Indonesia recorded the highest number of attacks, accounting for almost one quarter of the world total with 119 incidents. Eighty-six ships were boarded, two ships were hijacked and attempted attacks were made on another 31 ships. It was also the location where the greatest violence was experienced, with many of the pirates armed with knives. The IMB says there are no signs that the number of attacks will drop unless Indonesia takes serious steps to address the problem.

Amongst other world hotspots, the Malacca Straits witnessed a dramatic rise in attacks, up to 75 from 2 in 1999, despite the efforts of the Royal Malaysian Police to step up patrols in the area to tackle the problem. Its special task force captured two groups of pirates, but there are still known to be several other groups attacking and robbing ships as they transit this busy waterway, where the threat of an ecological catastrophe cannot be ignored.

Third place in the 2000 table goes to Bangladesh, with 55 attacks, up from 25 attacks in 1999. The Bangladeshi authorities have since taken action of their own, which resulted in a drop in attacks during the latter part of the year. Other substantial rises were recorded in India (35, up from 14 in 1999), Ecuador (13, up from two in 1999), and 13 attempted boardings on ships in the southern part of the Red Sea, where previously there had been no pirate activity. One of the few areas to see a downturn in activity was the Singapore Straits (five incidents, down from 14). The annual report also draws attention to IMB's recent initiative to take the fight against piracy onto the Internet with weekly updates of attacks and warnings. The service, which has been well received in the shipping world, is compiled from daily status bulletins broadcast via satellite from the IMB Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur. Posting the information on the Internet means shipowners and land-based authorities are able to access the updates as well as ships at sea. The address for the weekly report is www.icc-ccs.org

Piracy Attacks Surge On Tankers

Piracy attacks on oil tankers surged to unprecedented levels during the first quarter of 2001, reinforcing fears that the onslaught will sooner or later result in ecological catastrophe. There has been an increase in the number of tankers attacked, Jayant Abhyankar, deputy director of piracy investigator the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said. "Before it was mostly bulk-carriers."

Nearly half of the 56 cargo ships attacked in the first quarter of the year were tankers, compared to 28 percent in last year's first quarter, according to the IMB's latest report.

Abhyankar warned that pirate attacks on tankers in Asia's crowded shipping lanes were a growing threat to navigation. The problem was recently illustrated on March 19 by an attack on the 3,000-ton oil tanker Matsumi Maru as it steamed through the Malacca Straits.

The pirates took the duty second officer, and other crew members hostage, reads an account of the attack. They then tried to take another officer hostage, but he resisted and managed to grab a knife and torch from one of the pirates.

Tankers were the target of 30 percent of pirate attacks across the whole of last year, and the IMB said it feared that an equal number of attacks go unreported. Petroleum product tankers have proven to be a key target with their valuable cargoes of diesel and gasoline, which can easily be sold on the black market.

Anti-Piracy Life-Jacket Developed

An armored lifejacket, designed to protect sailors in case of pirate attacks was developed last year. The jacket conforms to International Maritime Organization standards for life vests and has integral knife and bullet resistance. Weighing 3.5kg, the Lorica Armored Lifevest has body armor encased in a high tensile polymer fabric that combines inherent buoyancy and water resistance with stab and bulletproofing. It is currently being tested by the German customs service in the Baltic and has already been ordered by police in Thailand.

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