Violence in Somali piracy rises to record levels

Pirates captured a record 1,181 hostages in 2010 – almost all of them off Somalia – during a year in which hijackings and attacks became more violent.

Attackers seized 53 vessels worldwide in 2010, according to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur. All but four were taken by Somali pirates. "More people were taken hostage at sea in 2010 than in any year since records began" in 1991, said the annual report.

Pirates are using hijacked vessels to hunt ships from Mozambique to Oman, an "unprecedented" growth in range, said the report. Using hijacked vessels to catch new prey also made navies more reluctant to intervene. Pirates have sometimes threatened to kill their captives if attacks were interfered with.

The Somali attacks accounted for 1,016 of the hostages held for ransom, the centre said. Somali pirates currently hold 31 vessels and 713 crew members of various nationalities after hijacking another four ships so far this year, IMB said.

Thirteen crew members were wounded and eight died in Somali pirate incidents in 2010, up from four who died and 10 who were wounded in 2009. There were no pirate killings elsewhere in the world in 2010.

Somalia's coastline snakes around the Horn of Africa and provides the perfect base for pirate dens.