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Global pirate attacks ease, bureau says

Global pirate attacks in 2005 sank to their lowest levels in seven years, while Iraq and Somalia emerged as new hotspots for sea bandits preying on vessels, a maritime watchdog said Tuesday.

There were 276 attacks worldwide last year, a 16 percent drop from the 329 cases in 2004, the British-based International Maritime Bureau said in a report released by its piracy watch center in Kuala Lumpur. It was the lowest annual figure since 1998, when 202 attacks occurred.

Indonesia remained the world’s most pirate-plagued country, but the number of attacks in its waters dipped to 79 in 2005 — nearly one-third of the global tally — from 94 the previous year.

The figure was not inclusive of the Malacca Strait, a busy shipping lane between Indonesia’s Sumatra island and peninsular Malaysia, where attacks fell to 12 last year from 38 in 2004. The decrease largely stemmed from “a show of force in known hotspots and several intelligence-led actions that resulted in gangs of pirates being caught,” the bureau said.

However, the bureau warned of mounting risks in Iraq, which had 10 attacks in 2005 compared to none the previous year, and Somalia, where attacks surged to 35 last year from two in 2004.

“Iraq stands out as a new world piracy hotspot,” the bureau said. “Opportunists whose main motivation is robbery and financial gain, and who use extreme violence toward crews in most cases, perpetrate these attacks.”

The pirates often use small boats to launch swift attacks on vessels at anchor in the vicinity of Basra oil terminal and Umm Qasr in southern Iraq, the bureau said.

Somalian waters — which lie along key shipping routes linking the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean — were increasingly afflicted by pirates using rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to capture vessels and hold their crew for ransom.

“With no central government and no national law enforcement infrastructure in the country, there is no local assistance available to the captured ships,” the bureau said, noting that vessels have been warned to keep at least 200 kilometers (120 miles) off Somalia’s east coast.

Locations that reported fewer attacks in 2005 included Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, the South China Sea, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, Venezuela, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and the United Arab Emirates.

No seafarers were killed by pirates last year, compared to 32 in 2004, the bureau said. However, 440 crew members were taken hostage — more than half of them in Somalia — the highest annual figure for kidnappings since the bureau began compiling statistics in 1992.

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