Pirate attacks worldwide surged 40 percent in 1999 as economic and political troubles in Indonesia spurred a dramatic increase in incidents in Southeast Asia.
The International Maritime Bureau
(IMB) said in its annual report that the number of actual and attempted pirate raids increased to 285 last year from 202 in 1998. However, the number of seafarers killed fell to three last year from 78 in 1998. "This could be due to greater efforts by governments to combat piracy," the report said, citing the recent sentencing to death of 13 pirates in China.
Indonesia accounted for 113 of the attacks, almost double its 1998 total of 60.
"We believe it was due to the economic situation and political instability," Noel Choong, regional manager of the IMB's Piracy Reporting Center in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, said.
He was referring to upheavals in Indonesia after the resignation of former President Suharto in 1998.
There was also a dramatic increase in the number of attacks in the Singapore Strait, which separates Singapore Island from Indonesia's Riau Archipelago and links the Strait of Malacca with the South China Sea. There were 13 compared with just one in 1998.
But Choong said the frequency of attacks in that area dropped sharply after the Singapore Coast Guard and the Indonesian Marine Police stepped up patrols, and no incidents were reported in the final three months of 1999.
"It is a very clear indication that with cooperation, authorities can reduce piracy or eradicate it altogether," Choong said.
The IMB has asked Indonesia to mount more patrols in its waters. "There may be a decline in attacks if the Indonesian authorities
are serious about eradicating piracy in their region," Choong said.
Seven countries or regions accounted for more than two thirds of the attacks - Indonesia (113), Bangladesh (23), Malaysia (18), India (14), Singapore Strait (13), Somalia (11) and Nigeria (11).
Attacks dropped from 15 to six in the Philippines and from 10 to two in Ecuador.
Most of the attacks - 217 of 285 - involved pirates boarding ships. There was a decrease in the number of hijackings to eight from 17.
There were also fewer assaults on crews, but many more incidents of crews taken hostage. Knives rather than guns were the most common weapon.
The IMB cited government efforts to combat piracy as a possible explanation for the dramatic decline in the number of crew killed last year.
"In the last year, both India and China have arrested alleged ship hijackers and China recently
sentenced to death 13 of the hijackers of MV Cheung Son, one of the country's most brutal recent cases of piracy involving the murder of 23 Chinese seamen," it said.
Last month, a court in China's southern province of Guangdong sentenced the 13 men, all Chinese except for one Indonesian, to death for clubbing the seamen to death and throwing their bodies overboard tied to weights.
The pirates had posed as Chinese paramilitary police and hijacked the 10,373 grt bulk carrier Cheung Son in November 1998. - (Reuters)