Magazine article Security Management

Piracy on the High Seas: Though the Number of Piracy Incidents Decreased in 2006, Those That Did Occur Were More Likely to Be Violent

Magazine article Security Management

Piracy on the High Seas: Though the Number of Piracy Incidents Decreased in 2006, Those That Did Occur Were More Likely to Be Violent

Article excerpt

JUTTING OUT FROM PALAWAN BEACH on Singapore's Sentosa Island is a small T-shaped piece of land landscaped by rocks and palm trees. Reached by rope bridge, the promontory is the southernmost point on the continent of Asia. Two lookout towers on either side of the T afford a view of the Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Out on the water, freighters, tankers, and tugboats are stacked up to the horizon, waiting to carry aluminum ingots, cereals, and other cargo to the next destination.

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More than 50,000 ships per year steam through the Strait of Malacca, and their valuable cargo has proven an irresistible target for modern-day pirates. Though maritime piracy in 2006 was down slightly from the prior year both in Asia and worldwide--Indonesia, which borders the straits along with Malaysia and Singapore, was still the world's top piracy victim. It suffered 50 attacks, down from 79 incidents in 2005.

Overall, the number of worldwide pirate attacks fell to 239 in 2006, compared to 279 in 2005 and 329 in 2004. Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, says the decline in assaults was due to increased patrols by law enforcement agencies and antipiracy watches by ship captains.

The number of incidents in 2006 was the lowest in eight years, and marked improvement was noted in Indonesia, Jamaica, India, and Somalia. Yet fresh troubling trends cropped up, including an increase in violence, Choong told me when I visited the IMB office in downtown Kuala Lumpur. The number of crew killed increased to 15 from none in 2005, while 77 crewmembers were kidnapped and 188 taken hostage.

New problem areas also appeared. "Countries with political and economic problems have more piracy," says Choong, a former master mariner in Singapore.

For example, the situation has deteriorated in Bangladesh, particularly in the Chittagong: it topped the world for recorded attacks in a single port and anchorage, with 46 incidents, and that location is now listed as the planet's most dangerous docking station.

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Behind Indonesia and Bangladesh, Nigeria logged 12 attacks, the third-highest number reported in the world. Nigerian violence and kidnapping also escalated, with 49 people snatched and three killed. …

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