Image: French navy seizes yacht targeted by pirates off Somalia
French Defense Ministry handout via AP
Zodiac commando boats, left, and a French navy frigate, arrive at the cruise ship Le Ponant, off Somalia's coast on Saturday. Helicopter-borne French troops had earlier swooped in on Somali pirates after they released 30 hostages from the luxury 288-foot yacht.
updated 4/16/2008 6:25:06 AM ET 2008-04-16T10:25:06

Pirate attacks rose worldwide in the first quarter of the year, with Nigeria overtaking Indonesia as the country worst plagued by sea bandits, a global maritime watchdog said Wednesday.

Seafarers suffered 49 attacks between January and March around the world, up 20 percent from the 41 recorded in the same period last year, the International Maritime Bureau said in a report by its piracy reporting center in Malaysia.

Nigeria ranked as the No. 1 hotspot amid a lack of effective law enforcement, with its 10 reported attacks — mostly off its main city of Lagos — accounting for one-fifth of the global total, the London-based bureau said.

Myriad armed groups roam the Niger Delta, where violence has slashed oil production and helped propel oil prices to new highs. Nigeria produces about 2.1 million barrels of oil a day, the largest output in Africa.

'Out of control'
"Violence in the waters off Nigeria is spiraling out of control," the report said, adding that the true number of incidents could be even higher because many attacks in the oil sector are believed to go unreported.

"It should not take a crisis leading to deaths, bombs and the withdrawal of services by shipping companies before the (Nigerian) government is forced to act," the bureau added.

India and the Gulf of Aden off the north coast of Somalia tied for second place among pirate-troubled territories, with both reporting five incidents apiece. Those in India were low-key attacks aimed at theft, while the Gulf of Aden was prone to hijackings.

Indonesian waters have long been the world's most afflicted by pirates, but the number of attacks in the first quarter fell from nine last year to four in 2008, the report said.

"For the first time in the last decade ... Indonesia is no longer ranked with the highest number of reported incidents," the bureau said. "The Indonesia navy and police should be commended for the anti-piracy measures taken."

Security also improved in the Straits of Malacca, a bustling shipping route shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. No attacks were reported this year, compared to two by this time in 2007. The waterway has long been notorious for attacks, but the three countries have bolstered patrols in recent years.

Other countries recording attacks in the first quarter included Tanzania with four, and the Philippines, Bangladesh, Peru, Angola, Ghana and Mozambique with two each.

"The use and threat of violence against crew members remain unacceptably high," the maritime bureau said.

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