, KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 14 – Piracy hit an all-time high in the first three months of 2011, with 142 attacks worldwide, driven mainly by raids off the lawless Somali coast, a maritime watchdog said Thursday.
A total of 97 attacks were recorded off Somalia in the first quarter, up from 35 in the same period last year, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in a report.
Worldwide, marauding sea bandits\’ hijacked 18 vessels and took 344 crew members as hostage, and kidnapped six seafarers from their boats. A further 45 vessels were boarded, and 45 more reported being fired upon.
"Figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea in the past three months are higher than we\’ve ever recorded in the first quarter of any past year," said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB\’s Piracy Reporting Centre, which has monitored incidents worldwide since 1991.
Mukundan said in the first three months of the year, pirates killed seven crew and wounded 34. Just two injuries were reported in the first quarter of 2006.
Of the 18 ships hijacked worldwide, 15 were captured off the east coast of Somalia, in and around the Arabian Sea and one in the Gulf of Aden.
In this area alone, 299 people were taken hostage and six others were kidnapped from their vessels.
At the last count, on 31 March, IMB figures showed that Somali pirates were holding captive 596 crew members on 28 ships.
"We\’re seeing a dramatic increase in the violence and techniques used by pirates in the seas off Somalia," said Mukundan.
The London-based IMB said the overwhelming number of hijackings off Somalia took place east and northeast of the Gulf of Aden.
Mukundan warned that large tankers carrying oil and other flammable chemicals were vulnerable to armed pirates.
"Three big tankers of over 100,000 tonnes deadweight have been hijacked off the Horn of Africa this year.
"Of a total of 97 vessels attacked in the region, 37 were tankers and of these, 20 had a deadweight of more than 100,000 tonnes," he said.
Dozens of countries have deployed warships to the region in a bid to eliminated the piracy menace.
In a recent show of force, the Indian navy captured 61 Somali pirates on a hijacked ship off India\’s west coast.
Elsewhere, nine incidents were reported off Malaysia, including the hijacking of a tug and barge off Tioman Island.
Five incidents were recorded for Nigeria and three attacks against vessels in Lagos.
IMB said crews in the area were reporting increased violence, including one incident where all 27 crew members were injured.
Despite the increased international military presence off Somalia\’s coastline — the longest on the African continent — pirates have raked in huge ransoms.