Shipowners in move to beat piracy

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AN ANTI-PIRACY co-ordination centre opened yesterday following an increase in the ferocity and danger of attacks on shipping by modern-day pirates, often armed with machine guns, writes Christian Wolmar.

Shipowners, fearful that an attack on a tanker could lead to an environmental catastrophe on the scale of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spillage in Alaska, have created the centre in Kualu Lumpur, Malaysia, under the auspices of the London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) which works to combat maritime crime.

The majority of the attacks are in the Far East, particularly in the Singapore Strait but there have also been incidents in Africa off Nigeria, the Cameroons and Angola, and in South America off Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela.

The centre will broadcast warning messages to vessels, collate information about suspicious craft movements and offer support to crew traumatised by attacks. 'The psychological effect on crews is often terrible,' an IMB spokesman said.

The bureau yesterday published a report setting out details of some of the 200-plus attacks in 1991. While many of these were 'maritime muggings' with the loss of personal belongings and cash, a significant number have involved the theft of whole ships and cargoes.