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Shipping warned of increase in piracy

(First Edition)

THE GOVERNMENT yesterday warned merchant shipping of the dangers of piracy, saying it represented a 'real and increasing' threat, writes David Nicholson-Lord.

The Department of Transport, which said Britain is the first state to issue such advice, yesterday sought to dispel the 'romance' of piracy. Lord Caithness, Minister for Shipping, said: 'It sometimes has a glamorous image but it is an evil and vile trade which has led to deaths around the world.'

Attacks by pirates, notably off the coasts of South America, West Africa and South-east Asia, have been growing as robbers use fast boats and modern technology to raid lightly-crewed modern tankers. In the first eight months of last year there were 81 attacks and at least five deaths.

There is also increasing concern about the pollution risk. In one recent case an 80,000-tonne liquid natural gas tanker was disabled and on automatic pilot in the Straits of Singapore for over 45 minutes after the crew had been locked up. Eventually they managed to free themselves.

Frank Wall, a senior official at the department, said the rise in piracy meant that 'the implications are not just bruised feelings and some stolen property but considerable risk to life and limb and considerable pollution damage'. He said the pirates appeared to come from fishing communities.

Last year the British master of a Bahamian-registered ship and one of his officers were killed off Indonesia. Britain is tabling its proposals at the International Maritime Organisation, which this month is sending a 15-member piracy working group to Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The department advises shippers to turn water hoses on attackers, 'ride off' pirate craft with heavy wheel movements, install closed-circuit television and improve surveillance.

But it 'strongly discourages' the carrying of guns as this might escalate the situation.