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Danger on the high seas

PIRATE attacks on merchant shipping and leisure vessels have tripled in the past decade, with areas north of Australia considered the world’s most treacherous.

And the threat of attack is leading many ship captains to adopt drastic measures to defend their cargo.

Figures from the International Maritime Bureau indicate there were 103 attacks reported in the first three months of this year. This is as many as were reported during the whole of 1993.

Indonesian waters continue to be the world’s most dangerous, with 28 pirate attacks recorded between January and March.

And it was not just goods that were taken. The IMB quarterly report said a total of 145 seafarers were either killed, assaulted, kidnapped or remain missing in the first quarter of 2003.

Bulk carriers were the vessels most likely to face attack.

Each week the IMB reports piracy figures. In the week between April 29 and May 5 there were a further 21 reported incidents.

The issue has raised the concern of the Federal Government, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issuing an alert in February of the dangers of sea piracy.

“Given heightened tensions in the Middle East, Australian seafarers should exercise extreme caution in the Gulf, Red Sea, eastern Mediterranean and northern Indian Ocean,” the alert warns.

“Sailors are strongly advised to avoid regions of civil unrest such as the coastal water of Somalia, and the north and east coasts of Sri Lanka.

“Seafarers should also be vigilant when anchoring off remote or isolated areas where they may become targets of opportunity.”

While many shipping operators still rely on weapons to defend their ships, other devices are also catching on, such as a 9,000 volt electric collapsible fence that was made available from January. Called Secure-Ship, the product is available through Rotterdam-based firm Secure-Marine. Anyone who comes in contact with the fence gets a non-lethal shock when attempting to board the ship. At the same time alarm and floodlights are activated. It is similar to a device used to protect military installations.

However, the presence of electrically charged wires means the system cannot be used on oil tankers or ships carrying heavily flammable materials.

In addition, a satellite tracking system is being recommended by the IMB so that ship owners can in-dependently monitor the whereabouts of their ships. Recent international legislation in the International Ship and Port Facility Code requiring all ships to have their International Maritime Organisation number on their hulls is also expected to improve the tracking and tracing of hijacked vessels.

The IMB was founded in 1981 to prevent fraud in international trade and maritime transport, reduce the risk of piracy and assist law enforcement in protecting crews.  In 1992, following outrage in the shipping industry at the alarming growth in piracy, IMP created the Piracy Reporting Centre based in Kuala Lumpur.

Some recent examples of piracy:

p May 5, off Sarawak, Malaysia: A large mother ship with seven small crafts approached an LPG carrier under way. The mother ship remained stationary but two small boats chased the LPG carrier for over two hours.

p May 3, Manila Bay, Philippines: Three pirates armed with guns in an unlit boat attempted to board a container ship. Alert crew members flashed lights and the pirate boat moved away.

p May 2, Chittagong anchorage, Bangladesh: Three pirates armed with big knives boarded a chemical tanker at the stern. Pirates stole ship’s stores and fled.

p May 1, At Kudat, Sabah, Malaysia: Two pirates stole a speedboat and used it to attack two fishing boats and take their outboard engines. Pirates were armed with automatic weapons and one was dressed in military uniform, the other in black overalls.

p April 30, east of Bintan Island, Indonesia: Pirates boarded a chemical tanker under way and took hostage the duty officer and A/B and handcuffed them. They threatened them with a gun and took them to master’s cabin. They threatened the the master not to retaliate and stole ship’s cash, master’s personal belongings, cash and valuables. Pirates also stole cash and personal belongings of the crew. They ordered the master to reduce speed and escaped in a boat.

p April 24, at Teluk Baka, Indonesia: A group of pirates hijacked a tug and barge under way. All crew were thrown overboard the next day and were rescued by the Indonesian navy.

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