updated 10/30/2007 10:57:48 AM ET 2007-10-30T14:57:48

The crew of a ship hijacked from Somalia overpowered their attackers Tuesday and regained control of the vessel, officials said.

About two dozen crew members of the North Korea-flagged vessel were able to fight off the eight gunmen who had seized the vessel late Monday, and the crew was piloting the ship back to the war-battered city's port in Mogadishu, said Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program, which independently monitors piracy in the region.

He said first reports that the vessel was from South Korea were incorrect, and that the crew numbered about 22, instead of nearly twice that number as earlier reported.

An international watchdog reported this month that pirate attacks worldwide jumped 14 percent in the first nine months of 2007, with the biggest increases off the poorly policed waters of Somalia and Nigeria.

Reported attacks in Somalia rose rapidly to 26, up from eight a year earlier, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said through its piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And some of those hijackings have turned deadly.

Unpoliced coast
Somalia has had 16 years of violence and anarchy, and is now led by a government battling to establish authority even in the capital. Its coasts are virtually unpoliced.

Piracy off Somalia increased this year after Ethiopian forces backing Somali government troops ousted an Islamic militia in December, said Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program which independently monitors piracy in the region.

During the six months that the Council of Islamic Courts ruled most of southern Somalia, where Somali pirates are based, piracy abated, Mwangura said.

At one point, the Islamic group said it was sending scores of fighters to crack down on pirates there. Islamic fighters even stormed a hijacked, UAE-registered ship and recaptured it after a gunbattle in which pirates — but no crew members — were reportedly wounded.

In May, pirates complaining their demands had not been met killed a crew member a month after seizing a Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel off Somalia's northeastern coast.

Pirates even targeted vessels on humanitarian missions, such as the MV Rozen which was hijacked in February soon after it had delivered food aid to northeastern Somalia. The ship and its crew were released in April. France has offered naval vessels to escort ships carrying World Food Program food to Mogadishu beginning in November.

Indonesia remained the world's worst piracy hotspot, with 37 attacks in the first nine months of 2007. But that was an improvement from 40 in the same period a year earlier, IMB said.

The IMB said Southeast Asia's Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest waterways, has been relatively quiet with 198 attacks on ships reported between January and September, up from 174 in the same period in 2006.

It said 15 vessels were hijacked, 63 crew members kidnapped and three killed.

Oil-rich Nigeria suffered 26 pirate attacks so far this year, up from nine in the same period last year.

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