Nairobi, Kenya — 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, an international watchdog reported Tuesday.
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.
"The seafaring industry is very concerned about this," said Cyrus Mody, a senior analyst with IMB. "There is absolutely no regard for law in that area. Not only is it not good for business in Africa, but it blocks humanitarian aid and is bad for the general stability of the continent."
The political instability in Somalia gave pirates "totally free rein without any sort of deterrence from the law," Mody said. "They've got a free hand right now."
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, but the World Food Program has since relied on more expensive air deliveries for Somalia.
Mwangura told The Associated Press that "some elements" in the Somali transitional federal government and some businessmen in Puntland, a northeastern Somalia region, are involved because "piracy is a lucrative business."