Pirate attacks globally rose to an all-time high last year, with suspected Somali pirates accounting for more than half of the 406 reported incidents.
A new report by the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting centre revealed that the pirates, mostly operating from the Gulf of Aden, attacked a total of 217 vessels, hijacking 47 of them and taking 867-crew members hostage.
In 2008, 111 vessels were targeted, ending in 42 hijackings.
The attackers are usually said to be young men aged between 17 and 35 years, who are well-armed with automatic weapons.
They are also said to be equipped with high technology communication gadgets like laptop computers, satellite cell phones and other military hardware.
The report by the global maritime watchdog, released on Thursday, says that despite this, the number of successful hijackings off Somalia had decreased, attributing this to the presence of international navies.
But it warned that pirates had shifted their focus from the Gulf of Aden, considered one of the busiest maritime trade routes, to the east coast of Somalia.
“While the 2008 attacks were predominantly focused in the Gulf of Aden, 2009 has witnessed more vessels being targeted along the east coast of Somalia,” it reads in part.
“Since October, increased activity has been observed in the Indian Ocean, with 33 incidents reported, including 13 hijackings,” adds the report.
It goes on: “Many of these attacks have occurred at distances of approximately 1000 nautical miles off Mogadishu.”
Among the high profile ships to have been hijacked along the Gulf of Aden include the Ukrainian mv Faina, carrying military hardware believed to have been destined for Kenya, although some foreign diplomats claimed the weapons were headed to Southern Sudan.
However, mv Faina, which was seized off the coast of Somalia on September 23, 2008, was released in February last year.
Apart from Somalia, pirate attacks were also recorded in Nigeria, with 28 incidents being reported.
Vessels attacked include general cargo, bulk carriers, reefers, and all types of tankers.
The International Maritime Bureau’s director, Captain Pottengal Mukundan, said that while the number of 2009 incidents has almost doubled, the number of successful hijackings was proportionately less.