Attacks by sea pirates worldwide increased by 20 per cent last year, with most occurring in Asia and oil and gas tankers being a favoured target, the International Maritime Bureau said on Wednesday.
Although piracy is a centuries-old problem in south-east Asia, the recent pattern has worried regional security officials, who warn terrorists may be planning to use a hijacked gas tanker as a floating bomb.
The Kuala Lumpur-based IMB piracy reporting centre said assaults against tankers accounted for 23 per cent of attacks last year. Pirates used new tactics by co-ordinating raids, with several small speedboats surrounding the slow-moving ships.
Indonesia had the highest number of piracy incidents with 121, or 27 per cent of the global total, followed by Bangladesh with 58 and Nigeria with 39.. Attacks in the strategic Malacca Strait rose to 28 from 16 a year earlier, with some blamed on Indonesia’s Aceh separatist rebels seeking ransom for kidnapped crew members.
But the IMB also pointed out there was an “abnormal trend” in barges and tugboats being targeted in the Malacca Strait. Security officials have suggested the stolen tugs could be used to tow a hijacked gas tanker into a crowded international port such as Singapore.
Last year’s reported total of 445 pirate attacks was the second highest recorded since the IMB began compiling statistics in 1991. Attacks peaked at 469 in 2000.
But the attacks were becoming more deadly, with 21 sailors killed last year and 88 injured. Sailors taken hostage nearly doubled to 359 from a year earlier. Another 71 sailors and passengers remain missing.