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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Pirates 'rule the high seas'
Indonesian pirates
Indonesian waters are the most dangerous
Violent acts of piracy at sea have hit an all-time high, with Indonesian waters ranking the most dangerous in the world, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The number of reported ship attacks soared 37% to 234 in the first six months of 2003, compared with 171 in the corresponding 2002 period.

"The figures are related to whether law enforcement authorities have taken action or not taken action," said Captain Jayant Abhyankar, deputy director of the IMB.

Bangladesh witnessed a doubling of attacks, but hijackings were also up in Nigerian and Indian waters.

Ecuador, Guyana and the Singapore Straits saw a downturn in activity.

Ropes with hooks

Indonesia recorded not only the highest number of attacks - accounting for over one-quarter of the world total - but also saw the greatest violence used by the hijackers.

"The pirates are very effective at getting on board. A boat can be going full speed but they can stop it using ropes with hooks," Captain Abhyankar said.

Singapore Straits

But shipping companies are increasingly able to protect themselves against attacks, he said.

Since the beginning of the year, ships have been installing 9,000-volt electric fences to deter pirates from getting on board.

Costing $20,000, the fence is highly effective, he said.

At least 200 ships have signed up for a satellite tracking service, so that if they go off course, law enforcement agencies can be alerted.

Crimes 'unpunished'

But most ships are still at risk from piracy, which is becoming more organised.

"There are concerns in the industry that the crimes are going unpunished and because people can get away with it, they are doing it more often," said David Osler, a piracy expert at Lloyds List newspaper.

He said some shipping companies were discussing carrying armed guards.

"But many companies see this as too risky, as things can escalate quite rapidly.

"What it comes down to is the need for states to police their waters effectively."

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