Sunday, May 25, 2008
PIRATE ATTACKS ON THE RISE ???
Mariners are being warned of a growing threat from pirates around the world after attacks on shipping rose by 20 per cent over the last year.
Gone are the cannon and cutlass, to be replaced by rocket propelled grenades and automatic rifles, but according to new figures from the organisation that collates reports of global piracy, the spirit of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow is alive and terrorising the ocean waves.
The International Maritime Bureau’s latest report reveals the first rise in pirate attacks since their previous peak in the mid 1990s. In one particularly savage incident in the Philippines in March, pirates shot dead the captain of a passenger boat and two of his crew before tying them to their anchor and tossing it overboard. They then shot the two remaining crew members and escaped in a motor boat.
The sharp rise in pirate attacks is blamed in large part on the collapse of law and order in Somalia and political unrest in Nigeria. The seas around the two African countries are now regarded as some of the most dangerous in the world.
Cyrus Mody, the IMB’s manager, said the reality of piracy was far removed from the glamorous image portrayed in films. “People have a romantic illusion about pirates, but there is nothing romantic when they stand in front of you with a gun to your head,” he said.
The IMB recorded 49 attacks in the first quarter of this year, up from 41 in the same period last year. The murderous attack in the Philippines was the most serious but there were many other incidents in which ships were attacked by gangs of heavily armed men.
In January, five men armed with guns boarded a French yacht off Venezuela, shot one of the crew and demanded all their property. The same month, four armed men used grappling hooks to try to board a bulk carrier off the Nigerian coast.
The IMB’s records are a litany of brutality. Last year pirates who attacked a Danish tanker off the coast of Nigeria tied up the bosun and threatened to cut off his ears unless he told them the code for the locks on the cargo control room. In another attack off the Nigerian coast, a Panamanian tug boat was boarded by five men who approached in a small fast boat. The pirates rounded up the crew on the bridge, smashed a bottle over the master’s head and forced each crew member to hand over their belongings.
A cargo ship attacked off the coast of Somalia launched parachute flares at the pirates when the captain realised they were about to open fire with a rocket propelled grenade. And a gang of pirates who boarded a Canadian yacht at anchor off Madagascar slashed the skipper’s hand and legs, tried to strangle his wife and made off with everything the couple had.
Not that the pirates always have it their own way. The IMB’s report reveals that in February this year a Maltese tanker successfully fought off a pirate attack off the coast of Somalia by adopting a zig-zag course and turning its fire hoses on the pirate boat until the would be attackers, who were firing at the tanker, eventually gave up and sailed away.
Earlier this month Guy Grieve, who writes the Telegraph’s All at Sea column, reported having to outrun a suspected pirate pirogue off the caost of Trinidad.
Yesterday Adrian Flanagan, the lone round-the-world yachtsman who completed his two and a half year voyage last week, told The Sunday Telegraph how he nearly collided with a pirate ship 400 miles off the coast of Brazil.
Mr Flanagan, 46, the author of a novel about pirates, described how he kept watch for 48 hours with a loaded shotgun in his lap as the pirates tracked him across the ocean in a rusting 200-foot vessel, before finally turning their attention elsewhere.
“I thought, 'I’m in trouble here - these guys have got to be pirates’,” he said. “I broke out my pump action shotgun, loaded it with seven rounds and cocked it.”
For 48 hours, they followed his sloop Barrabas while he kept watch and used his satellite telephone to contact his former wife in Britain and raise the alarm. “I called Louise and told her the situation. She was OK about it but, I think she had an idea in her head of a guy with a wooden leg and eyepatch - I don’t think she really realised the level of threat.
“These people are very, very vicious. I am staggered by the number of attacks on small vessels, and the number of boats that disappear every year is stunning. They take what they want and scuttle the vessel with the bodies on board.”
Last week the IMB identified Nigeria as the world’s most dangerous piracy hotspot, and warned that the country was ill equipped to combat pirates who plied the seas in speed boats, modern machine guns and radios, targeting tankers, trawlers, barges and oil industry support vessels.
India and the Gulf of Aden rank second in the list of most dangerous places, and last week nine countries in the region launched a concerted effort to improve security. In response to the growing threat, the French and American governments have drafted a UN resolution to allow nations to pursue and arrest pirates.
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