Attacks reach 44 in worst month for piracy since records began

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Piracy is enjoying its busiest month since modern records began, official figures show. With three days still to go, there have been 44 attacks on ships around the world – four more than in the whole of March, itself a record-breaking month.

The latest incident happened yesterday morning when a German grain carrier, the Malta-flagged MV Patriot, and 17 crew were seized by armed men in the Gulf of Aden. The crew were said to be unhurt.

Records kept by the International Maritime Bureau, which monitors commercial crime at sea, show that in all there were 102 attacks worldwide in the first three months of 2009, almost twice as many as a year ago.

The seas off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden have become the most dangerous in the world, seeing 61 incidents from January to March, 10 times as many as during the same period in 2008. Since then, the seizing of the US-operated container ship the Maersk Alabama has hit the headlines.

Piracy has become Somalia's only boom industry, netting about $50m (£34m) a year for one of the world's poorest countries. "All you need is three guys and a little boat, and the next day you're millionaires," said Abdullahi Omar Qawden, once a captain in the country's now defunct navy.