April 15, 2011 Dalkayaga@gmail.com
Nearly 70 percent or 97 of the attacks occurred off the coast of Somalia, up sharply from 35 in the same period |last year, the International Maritime Bureau's piracy |reporting centre said.
Attackers seized 18 vessels worldwide, including three big tankers, in the January-March period and captured 344 crew members. Pirates also murdered seven crew members and injured 34.
"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 year," said the bureau's director, |Pottengal Mukundan.
He said there was a "dramatic increase in the violence and techniques" used by |Somali pirates to counter increased patrols by international navies, putting large tankers carrying oil and other flammable chemicals at highest risks. Of the 97 vessels |attacked off Somalia, he said 37 were tankers.
International navies have taken a tougher stance against pirates, with the Indian navy alone arresting 120 mostly |Somali pirates over the past few months.
The US and other nations have also prosecuted suspects.
Mukundan said the positions of some of the attackers' mother ships were known, and called for stronger action to prevent further hijackings.
Pirates held about 28 ships and nearly 600 hostages as of the end of March.
Last year there were |445 pirate attacks worldwide - almost all of them off the Somali coast - a 10 percent rise from 2009.