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One tanker attacked in SE Asia every two weeks: piracy watchdog

[KUALA LUMPUR] Pirates attack one small coastal oil tanker every two weeks in the waters off Southeast Asia, which remained the world's piracy hotspot in the first quarter, the International Maritime Bureau said Tuesday.

Southeast Asia saw 38 pirate attacks during January-March or 70 per cent of the global total of 54, according to the latest quarterly report by the bureau's Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Centre.

"The frequency of these hijackings in Southeast Asia is an increasing cause for concern," the IMB's director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement, warning that attacks could increase further if the problem is not addressed.

The 54 global incidents represented a 10 per cent increase over the first quarter of 2014, the report said.

There were 245 attacks for all of last year, the IMB had said earlier.

Indonesian waters remained the most piracy-prone, seeing 21 attacks in the first quarter.

The report indicated a continued shift in the world piracy problem over the past few years towards Southeast Asia, and away from the past hotspots of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

The latter two saw zero attacks in the first three months of the year as an international naval patrol off East Africa - launched in response to an earlier spike in violent attacks by mostly Somali-based pirates - continued to bear fruit.

But the IMB said Southeast Asian hijackings were "occurring at least every two weeks and becoming an increasing and worrying cause for concern".

"A number of these incidents have occurred in international waters, and a robust and coordinated regional response is required in order to counter these threats," it added.

Most Southeast Asian attacks involved "armed gangs targeting small coastal tankers to steal their cargoes of fuel", typically by syphoning it to another waiting vessel.

Pirates took 140 seafarers as hostages worldwide during the course of attacks in the quarter, compared to 46 during the same period in 2014.

Globally, 13 crew members were assaulted, three injured and one killed, the report said.

Southeast Asian piracy had been signficantly reduced over the past decade by stepped-up regional cooperation and maritime patrols, but has re-emerged.

Much of the world's trade passes through the region's shipping lanes such as the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait, which separates Malaysia and Indonesia.