, KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 – Somali pirates have carried out 35 of the 39 ship hijackings reported globally this year and extended their reach to the southern Red Sea for the first time, a maritime watchdog said Monday.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said that the number of hijackings worldwide in the first nine months of 2010 had risen from 34 in the same period last year.
"Somali pirates used ocean-going fishing vessels to reach as far as the southern Red Sea, where they hijacked a chemical tanker in July 2010, the first such hijacking recorded in the area," it said. "Pirates are heavily armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades."
The London-based watchdog also reported a rebound in attacks in the South China Sea, a one-time hotspot where piracy had been virtually eradicated by naval patrols. Incidents in the area tripled to 30 in the year so far.
"The pirates in this area use almost identical methods of attack, suggesting that a small number of groups is responsible," said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan. "The fact that vulnerable vessels are boarded by pirates whilst steaming is a matter of concern."
Bangladesh\’s port city of Chittagong has also been hit by an upsurge in incidents, with an increasing number of thieves boarding vessels at anchor or nearby. Around Indonesia, 26 incidents were recorded, up from seven in 2009.
The IMB commended the international naval presence protecting merchant shipping off the Horn of Africa, but said that no flotilla could ever hope to guard such a vast stretch of ocean.
As Somali pirates moved further offshore to evade the naval presence, attacks in their former hunting ground off the Gulf of Aden fell to 44 compared with 100 for the same period of 2009.
The IMB said that in the first nine months of 2010 there were 289 piracy incidents on the world\’s seas, slightly down from 306 a year earlier.
So far this year, pirates have boarded 128 ships and fired at 52, while 70 vessels thwarted attacks. One crew member has been killed, 27 injured and 773 taken hostage.