International maritime piracy [JURIST news archive] reached an all-time high in the first quarter of 2011, says a report [press release] released Thursday by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) [official website]. The ICC's piracy reporting center, which has monitored reports of maritime piracy 24 hours a day since 1991, reports that through the end of March, 18 vessels and 344 crew members have been taken hostage, 15 of them in waters off the east coast of Somalia. Forty-five additional ships report having been boarded in 2011, with another 45 saying they have taken fire. The hijackings have accounted for the deaths of seven crew members and injuries to an additional 34. IMB director Pottengal Mukundan says that the problem continues to mount, especially around the Arabian Sea:
Figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea in the past three months are higher than we've ever recorded in the first quarter of any past year. ... We're seeing a dramatic increase in the violence and techniques used by pirates in the seas off Somalia. The overwhelming number of vessels hijacked off Somalia took place east and north east of the Gulf of Aden. The positions of some of the attackers' mother ships are known. It is vital that strong action is taken against these mother ships to prevent further hijackingsMukundan said that vessels hauling large volumes of highly flammable materials, such as gas and petroleum, have been especially vulnerable. To request a PDF copy of the report, visit the ICC's website [report request form].
Incidents of international maritime piracy continue to climb. Earlier this week, the UN Security Council [official website] unanimously approved a resolution [JURIST report] to consider creating new laws, courts and prisons specialized to address the growing problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. Last January, the IMB reported [JURIST report] that, to that point, 2009 marked the worst year of piracy since 2003, spiking near Somalian waters then as well. In July 2009, the IMB reported [JURIST report] that pirate attacks around the globe doubled in the first half of 2009. Few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. The few that have attempted to do so include Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].