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Southeast Asia now biggest global danger zone for piracy: U.N.

AFP-JIJI

Southeast Asia has overtaken the Horn of Africa as the world’s hot spot for pirate attacks after concerted international efforts to police the waters off Somalia, the U.N. said Thursday.

Last year 28 boats were attacked in the western Indian Ocean but none taken captive, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research said in a report.

That compares with January 2011, when Somali pirates seized 736 hostages and 32 boats, holding some onshore and others aboard their vessels.

“There has been a significant reduction in the number of pirate attacks during 2013, to the extent one can claim they have almost stopped,” the agency said.

Attacks in the Horn of Africa spiraled from the early 2000s, with pirates hijacking cargo ships and taking crews prisoner for months and even years.

Much of the reduction in attacks is down to the international fleet that has started to patrol the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, and many merchant vessels have started hiring armed guards for the most dangerous section of passage.

Attacks have also become less deadly, with incidents involving rocket-propelled grenades falling from 43 in 2011 to just three last year.

At the same time the pirates’ ransom haul fell from $150 million in 2011 to $60 million the following year.

They are also sticking much closer to shore, with the average raid taking place less than 50 kilometers from the coast in 2013, a quarter of their range three years earlier.

Meanwhile piracy has surged in Southeast Asia, particularly in the maritime transit hub of the Malacca Straits, between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Attacks in the region topped 150 last year after beginning to tick upwards in 2010, the U.N. agency said.

“Piracy in the Malacca Strait continues to be a major disruptor for safe routes in the eastern Indian Ocean,” it said.

Last month the International Maritime Bureau said that there had been 23 actual or attempted attacks in Southeast Asian waters between January and March, mainly off Indonesia.

The agency said piracy was likely to become even worse in the region as the center of gravity of global shipping continues to shift toward Asia.

“With changing climatic conditions at high latitudes and medium-to-low-income countries in Asia experiencing the largest growth per capita, additional transport routes may be explored,” it added.

In total the World Bank estimates that piracy costs the global economy roughly $18 billion a year in increased trade costs.

That amount “dwarfs the estimated $53 million average annual ransom paid since 2005,” the bank said in a 2013 report.

Another focus of piracy is Africa’s Gulf of Guinea off West Africa, where there were 50 incidents of piracy last year.

Attacks in the region have become increasingly violent, causing economic disruption and sparking a military fight-back by governments.

A Greek oil tanker with 24 crew aboard was hijacked in early June off Ghana, the International Maritime Bureau said.

“The number of attacks shows no sign of decreasing. Attacks in the high seas have increased, while attacks in ports are on the decrease,” said the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.