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Cases of piracy at sea leap, Indonesia worst
( 2003-10-31 10:39) (Agencies)

Piracy on the high seas has reached record levels and Indonesian waters are the most dangerous in the world, an ocean crime watchdog said Friday.

The International Maritime Bureau, or IMB, said the number of reported ship attacks leaped to 344 in the first nine months of this year, 26 percent more than the 271 recorded in the same period in 2002.

"This is the highest number of attacks for the first nine months of any year since the IMB Piracy Reporting Center began compiling statistics in 1991," said IMB director Captain Pottengal Mukundan.

Pottengal said there had also been an alarming rise in violence, with pirates using dangerous weaponry like sub-machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.

It said 20 crew had been killed compared with six in the same period in 2002. Cases where guns had been used jumped to 77 from 49, and knives from 99 to 115.

"This increase in violence is of great concern. Despite all the information now available on piratical attacks, there are hardly any cases where these attackers are arrested and brought to trial.

"It is only when the pirates face a greater risk of getting punished that we will begin to see a reduction in these figures," he said.

Indonesian waters again topped the list, with the most attacks at 87 for the first nine months of the year. Bangladesh was second with 37 attacks.

Attacks in the Malacca Straits, one of the most strategically important passages of water in the world, jumped to 24 from 11 in 2002. Thirty percent of the world's trade and 80 percent of Japan's crude oil is transported through the narrow corridor between Malaysia and Indonesia.

The IMB also warned recently that politics could be behind some attacks on ships.

It said separatist rebels from Indonesia's Aceh province could be behind a surge in attacks on oil tankers in the strait.

In July it reported three attempted boardings in less than a week, with pirates firing automatic weapons at two gas tankers and an oil tanker.

Western intelligence agencies and maritime security experts have gone further. Some have linked al Qaeda, or militant groups associated with it, to piracy in Indonesia's waters.

Some experts say al Qaeda showed its nautical strategy and sophisticated seaborne attack capability by bombing the Limburg oil tanker off Yemen in 2002 and U.S. warship USS Cole in 2000.

Jemaah Islamiyah, a group whose goal is to create an Islamic state enveloping Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the southern Philippines, has also been identified by experts as capable of hijacking a supertanker and exploding it in the strait.

African waters too are highlighted as dangerous, particularly off the coast of Somalia.

Attacks in waters off Nigeria soared 300 percent to 28 from nine in 2002.

By contrast the IMB said the record of countries such as Ecuador, Guyana, Malaysia and Thailand had shown a marked improvement. It said Malaysia had had no incidents in the last three months.

It also reported a decrease in hijackings.

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