Pirates took a record 1,181 hostages in 2010 as ship hijackings in waters off Somalia escalated, a global maritime watchdog said Tuesday.
Attackers seized 53 vessels worldwide last year — all but four off the coast of Somalia — according to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.
The number of hostages and vessels taken "are the highest we have ever seen" since the center began monitoring attacks in 1991, its director, Pottengal Mukundan, said in a statement.
"The continued increase in these numbers is alarming," he said.
The Somali attacks accounted for 1,016 hostages held for ransom, the center said.
Somali pirates are currently holding 31 vessels and 713 crew members of various nationalities after hijacking another four ships so far this year, it said.
Pirates sailing further
Somalia's position on the Horn of Africa means pirates can use its long coastline to capture ships.
The country has not had a functioning government since a dictatorship collapsed in 1991, and an international flotilla of warships patrolling the waters has struggled to prevent hijackings.
The number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden, which along with adjacent seas links Europe to Asia, dropped by half because of better patrolling.
However, while the naval patrols foiled many attacks, the Somali pirates had moved farther offshore to boost their chance of success in hijackings, the piracy reporting center said.
"All measures taken at sea to limit the activities of the pirates are undermined because of a lack of responsible authority back in Somalia from where the pirates begin their voyages," said Mukundan.
Overall, there were 445 pirate attacks worldwide last year, a 10 percent rise from 2009, the center said. Eight crew members died — all attributed to Somali pirates.
Violent attacks and armed robberies were also notable in Indonesian waters, where 30 vessels were boarded.
Bangladesh had 21 vessels boarded, mainly by attackers armed with knives at the port of Chittagong, while Nigeria had 13, mostly near the port of Lagos.
The number of attacks in the South China Sea, which links to a key shipping lane for world trade, more than doubled to 31 in 2010, the IMB said.
On Monday, Somali pirates hijacked a Greek-owned bulk carrier, the MV Eagle, after releasing a Greek-owned tanker Sunday, the European Union Naval Force said.
The cargo ship was taken by pirates who had fired small arms and grenades, according to a press statement from the EU Naval Force. There were 24 Filipino crew onboard, it said.
The attack occurred in the Gulf of Aden, 490 miles southwest of Salaam, Oman. The EU said there had been no contact with the ship since the attack.
On Sunday, the MV Motivator and its crew of 18 Filipinos were released from pirate control, another press statement said. The ship was taken on July 4.
An EU ship had assisted the crew, and "according to the ship's Greek owners, the crew are reported to be as well as could be expected given the circumstances."