The hijacking of an Italian cargo vessel with seven Indian crew members on board off the coast of Oman by suspected Somali pirates on Tuesday takes the number of Indian seafarers taken hostage in 2011 to nearly 100. Of this, 63 were reportedly released.

Figures from the Ministry of Shipping say that a total of 86 Indian seafarers were taken hostage between January and August in the Somali waters. Of them, 60 were released during the year. To this can be added the 17 Indian crew members of Italian vessel ‘Savina Caylyn,' who were released according to news reports out of Rome early this month. This vessel was hijacked on February 8.

The Ministry had allowed deployment of armed guards on Indian merchant vessels in August and prescribed the best management policy to thwart pirate attacks. Meanwhile, the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre has recorded 199 piracy-related incidents attributed to Somali pirates between January and September.

Information from the Bureau said that piracy on the world's seas rose to record levels, with Somali pirates being behind 56 per cent of the incidents in the first nine months. Anti-piracy measures were increasingly successful in thwarting attacks.

It pointed out that Somali pirates were spreading their operations to the Red Sea areas too, especially during the monsoon. The boldest attack by them was in August, when they hijacked a chemical tanker, under State coastal security, from an Omani port.

Attacks by these pirates were up this year to 199 from previous year's 126 for the same period. However, they are managing to hijack fewer vessels — 24 this year against 35 last year during the January-September period. Hijackings were successful in 12 per cent of all attempts, down from 28 per cent last year.

The report pointed to the coast of Benin turning into a hotspot. There were 19 attacks, eight tanker hijacks, up from zero incidents in the area in 2010. Piracy and armed attacks in Indian subcontinent were down from 106 in the first three quarters of 2010 to 87 this year.

The report is also a pointer to the area of influence of the Somali pirates. A total of 48 German ships, 47 each from Greece and Singapore, 22 from Hong Kong, 15 from Japan and 14 from India were among the ships hijacked during the first nine months. Among the ships that came under attack were 78 bulk carriers, 59 chemical tankers, 50 tankers, 50 container vessels and 29 general cargo vessels.

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