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Pirate attacks rose last year by 57% compared with 1999 figures and were nearly four and half times higher when compared with 1998.

The Business and Security e-Journal, October 2001 8 In its annual Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships report for 2000, the IMB, a division of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), reports a total of 469 attacks on ships either at sea, at anchor or in port.

The violence used in the attacks rose to new levels, with 72 seafarers killed and 99 injured in 2000, up from 3 killed and 24 injured the previous year. The number of hostages taken was halved to 202 seafarers. Ships were boarded in 307 instances and a total of eight ships were hijacked.

It is believed by professionals in the industry that large numbers of attacks remain unreported. The figures, compiled for January to December 2000, show an alarming rise in piracy and armed robbery in the seas off Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Malacca Straits, India, Ecuador, and the Red Sea.

Indonesia recorded the highest number of attacks, accounting for almost one quarter of the world total, with 119 incidents. 86 ships were boarded, two ships were hijacked, and attempted attacks were made on another 31 ships. It was also the location where the greatest violence was experienced, with many of the pirates armed with knives. The IMB says there are no signs that the number of attacks will drop unless Indonesia takes serious steps to address the problem.

The Malacca Straits witnessed a dramatic rise in attacks, up to 75 from 2 in 1999, despite the efforts of the Royal Malaysian Police to step up patrols in the area to tackle the problem. Its special task force captured two groups of pirates, but there are still known to be several other groups attacking and robbing ships as they transit this busy waterway where the threat of an ecological catastrophe also looms.

Bangladesh, with 55 attacks, is up from 25 attacks in 1999. The Bangladeshi authorities have since taken action of their own, which resulted in a drop in attacks during the latter part of the year. Other substantial rises were recorded in India (35, up from 14 in 1999), Ecuador (13, up from 2 in 1999), and 13 attempted boardings on ships in the southern part of the Red Sea, where previously there had been no pirate activity. One of the few areas to see a downturn in activity was the Singapore Straits (5 incidents, down from 14).

Attacks still occur in the Caribbean, especially along the coast of Nicaragua, where a majority of the ships that disappear are thought to have had the occupants robbed, killed, and the boat taken and re-flagged.

A proposal to limit the attractiveness of this type of piracy was floated by the International Maritime Bureau with a call to stamp the hulls of ships with a permanent identity code, saying it would reduce crimes that involve the masking of ships’ origins.

Fraudulent ship owners are using increasingly sophisticated techniques to produce forged identity papers for ships and their cargo. By fooling the port authorities, they can take a stolen or un-seaworthy ship into a port, load it with goods, and sail off. Once at sea, all it takes is a new flag, a quick repaint, and another set of false identity papers, and the phantom ship is nearly impossible to trace. Few ports check the authenticity of registration certificates with the issuing office.

While every ship’s official IMO identification number figures on its identity documents, the number is rarely visible on the ship itself. It is proposed for the IMO number to be embossed on the hull of the ship so that pilots, port authorities and customs authorities can immediately distinguish the number of the vessel and check its identity. All ships around the world would then be visibly identifiable from the day they leave the shipyard through to when they are scrapped. This could prove to be an important crime prevention measure, especially against phantom-ship crimes, which rely on fake documents. Unlike current maritime documents, a number embossed on the hull of a ship is difficult to tamper with. If anyone interferes with it, it will be more apparent.

If adopted it will take at least five years to implement. Proponents believe the cost is far outweighed by the benefits to the shipping industry, the environment and to international trade if ships’ identities can be properly regulated. It is also an invaluable aid to buyers of second hand vessels to easily verify the origins of the vessel.

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