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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Shipping firms call up pirate busters
Cargo ship
Crime syndicates will hijack ships and their entire cargoes

Piracy on the high seas is one of the oldest and most violent crimes.

In the first half of 2002 more than 170 ships were attacked by organised gangs.

The world's most dangerous area for piracy is East Asia - particularly the waters around Indonesia.

Big cargo ships can be surprisingly vulnerable. They tend to have just a few crew members to transport and protect goods worth millions of dollars.

Troubled waters

From the coast of Singapore's southern islands, you can see the water dotted with cargo ships and tankers.

Other piracy hotspots
52 ships were boarded off the coast of Africa
23 ships were boarded off the coast of India and Bangladesh

Data: January-June 2002 - International Maritime Bureau

On one side is the Malacca Straights - the busiest shipping lane in the world, and a notorious piracy zone.

On the other side lies the South China Sea, where the Petroranger, carrying a cargo of petroleum products was hijacked in 1998.

Alan Chan, the chairman of Petroships which owns the vessel, told how he was hijacked "by 12 Indonesian pirates".

He explained that ships carrying a full cargo lie low in the water, making it easier for pirates to board them.

That kind of hijacking and robbery is becoming more common - and more violent.

The International Maritime Bureau runs a special Piracy Reporting Centre to warn crews of hot spots and, on a daily basis, report where suspicious boats have been seen.

Stolen to order

The bureau says there were more attacks in the first six months of this year than in the first half of 2001 - 171 incidents in all.

Ship laden with cargo
Fully laden ships are easier to board

Deputy director Jayant Abhyankar said: "When it comes to normal piracy - what we call maritime mugging - pirates choose any ship that is passing by and board that vessel if they want to.

"In the case of hijackings and stealing of entire cargoes, that is well organised and well planned."

The cargoes are stolen to order, and already sold in advance of them being stolen.

Common targets are ships carrying sugar, steel, gas and oil.

There are countless tales of ships being chased and boarded by pirates - the waters around Indonesia are notoriously dangerous.

But ships have also run into problems off the coast of India, Bangladesh, Africa and Latin America.

Be prepared

Crews are often unprepared for these attacks, which is where a company called Lighthouse Maritime Security hopes to step in.


Your first priority should be to protect life.

Alastair Raisbeck, Lighthouse Maritime Security

The company, run by Alastair Raisbeck, a former member of Britain's Royal Marines, is hoping to advise government agencies and shipping companies on how to deal with the threat.

Ships should, for example, not spend an excessive amount of time at anchor, Mr Raisbeck said.

"You are going to make yourself more vulnerable to just to the opportunist pirate let alone the crime syndicates," he said.

First priority

There are a number of measures which can be taken to see-off pirates, such as turning fire hoses on boarders, and firing off flares.

But Mr Raisbeck cautioned: "You don't want to escalate things.

"You don't want to start firing weapons at them because the chances are they are going to have bigger and better weapons.

"Your first priority should be to protect life on board your vessel, and secondly to protect your cargo and your vessels integrity."

Back at Petroships, all vessels now boast satellite tracking systems, so that if pirates strike again they will find it harder to hide a stolen ship.

But the only way to really reduce the crime is for governments and authorities to work together to catch the pirates and ensure stiff penalties are imposed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alison Gee
"Ships have also run into problems off the coast of India, Bangladesh, Africa and Latin America."
See also:

24 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
16 Feb 01 | South Asia
08 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
01 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Internet links:


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