Pirates seized record 1,181 hostages in 2010 - report

Somali pirate
Image caption Somali pirates are now operating farther offshore, the IMB says

Pirates took a record 1,181 hostages in 2010, despite increased patrolling of the seas, a maritime watchdog has said.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said 53 ships were hijacked worldwide - 49 of them off Somalia's coast - and eight sailors were killed.

The IMB described as "alarming" the continued increase in hostage-taking incidents - the highest number since the centre began monitoring in 1991.

Overall, there were 445 pirate attacks last year - a 10% rise from 2009.

Last week, a separate study found maritime piracy costs the global economy between $7bn (£4.4bn) and $12bn (£7.6bn) a year.

Measures 'undermined'

"These figures for the number of hostages and vessels taken are the highest we have ever seen," said Pottengal Mukundan, the head of the IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre.

In the seas off Somalia, the IMB said, heavily-armed pirates were often overpowering fishing or merchant vessels and then using them as bases for further attacks.

The Somali attacks accounted for 1,016 hostages seized last year. Somali pirates are currently holding 31 ships with more than 700 crew on board.

Although naval patrols - launched in 2009 in the Gulf of Aden - have foiled a number of attacks, Somali pirates are now operating farther offshore.

"All measures taken at sea to limit the activities of the pirates are undermined because of a lack of responsible authority back in Somalia," the IMB said.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991.

Without schools, hospitals and employment opportunities in south-central Somalia "whatever actions are taken at sea to protect from piracy will have no effect", he told the BBC World Service.

However, the IMB noted that in the Gulf of Aden itself incidents more than halved to 53 due to the presence of foreign navies.

Mr Mukundan said it was "vital" that naval patrols continue.

Elsewhere, violent attacks increased in the South China Sea and waters off Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

Last week, a report by US think-tank One Earth Future said that piracy cost the international community up to $12bn each year.

The study calculated the amount from the costs of ransom, security equipment and the impact on trade.

It said the majority of costs came from piracy off Somalia.

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