Deaths of hostages held by Somali pirates 'increasing'

A Somali pirate on the coast of northwestern Somali photographed in 2010
Image caption Violence against hostages by their pirate captors remains high

The number of hostages killed or injured by Somali pirates increased significantly last year, according to a report by maritime officials.

The International Maritime Bureau says 35 people who were held hostage by Somali pirates died in 2011.

Levels of violence against seafarers in coastal waters around east Africa and the Gulf of Aden also remained high.

While the number of successful hijackings decreased, hostages are being held for longer, the report said.

Most of the hostages who died were killed while trying to escape during rescue operations.

The other deaths were directly at the hands of the pirates or due to malnutrition or disease during captivity.


While figures for hostages killed in previous years are patchy, the report says the 2011 figure does reflect a significant increase, and accounts for 3% of the total number of hostages taken.

BBC Africa analyst Mary Harper says it used to be rare for hostages to die in captivity since their value while alive has enabled pirates in the past to successfully obtain large ransom payments.

The report also outlined some of the violence faced by seafarers and those taken hostage.

Last year nearly 4,000 seafarers were fired upon by Somali pirates, the report said

Of that number, 968 seafarers faced armed pirates who managed to board their vessels, while some 413 of those seafarers were rescued from secured rooms on their vessels by naval forces.

At least 1,206 hostages were held by Somali pirates in 2011, including 555 seafarers attacked and taken hostage during the year, and 645 captured in 2010 who remained in pirate hands.

Half of those held were subjected to punching and slapping and 10% suffered violent abuse such as being locked in freezers, burned with cigarettes and having their fingernails pulled out with pliers.

The average length of captivity also increased by 50% over the last year, up to an average length of more than eight months.

Some have been kept for more than two years, such as the crew of the Panama-flagged MV Iceberg who have been held hostage since March 2010.

The report says the ship's owner has gone out of business so there is nobody to negotiate the crew's release.

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