Somalia becomes more perilous because of sea piracy

Pirate attacks worldwide in the first nine months of 2005 fell to their lowest levels in six years, but commercial ships must remain cautious in hotspots including Somalia and Indonesia, a maritime watchdog said Tuesday.

Seafarers suffered 205 attacks globally between January and September, an 18 percent drop from the 251 cases in the same period last year, the British-based International Maritime Bureau said in a report released by its piracy watch center in Kuala Lumpur.

The figure was the lowest for this period since 1999, when 180 attacks occurred worldwide.

Locations that reported fewer attacks included Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, Venezuela, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania and Senegal.

But the bureau warned of an increased risk of violent hijackings off Somalia's coastline, where 19 attacks occurred between January and September compared to just one last year.

"These waters have become a pirates' charter," the bureau said, stressing that ships should remain at least 240 kilometers away from Somalia's eastern coast.

Armed pirates in speedboats frequently fire on ships passing near Somalia, seeking to hijack them and hold the crew for ransom. Somalia lies along key shipping lanes linking the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

On Saturday, pirates firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles tried to board a cruise ship carrying mainly American tourists off Somalia's coast. The cruise ship sped away and no passengers were injured, but one crew member was wounded in the attack.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's waters remained the world's most pirate-plagued, though total attacks so far this year slipped to 61 - nearly one-third of the worldwide tally - compared to 70 in the first nine months of last year.

That figure did not include attacks in the Malacca Strait, a busy maritime route that separates Indonesia's Sumatra island and Malaysia. The strait was also safer, with 10 attacks this year compared to 25 in the same timeframe in 2004, partly because pirates were deterred by a large naval presence after last December's tsunami, the AP reports.


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