Attacks on small tankers have reached worrying levels in Southeast Asia, the scene of five of six vessel hijackings reported worldwide during the third quarter, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
The development comes despite the third consecutive annual fall in piracy on a global scale, the industry anti-piracy watchdog added.
Southeast Asia has seen gangs of thieves armed with knives and guns target vessels carrying products such as gasoil or marine diesel oil.
Having boarded the ship at sea, the pirates hold the crew hostage for a short time while they unload all or part of the cargo, either for their own use or to sell locally.
Matters are particularly acute in Indonesia, which recorded 72 incidents between January and September, including 67 armed robberies and five hijackings.
In two separate hijackings off Pulau Bintan in September, 26 crew were taken hostage. Elsewhere in Indonesia 59 vessels were boarded and there were eight attempted attacks.
The waters off Pulau Bintan have seen more attacks than any other area in the world, with 27 incidents reported.
Most incidents were low-level thefts or attempted thefts from vessels at anchor or berthed. By contrast, Somali has been remarkably quiet, with just 10 incidents reported so far this year.
Nevertheless, the IMB stressed that some 40 seafarers are still held captive by Somali pirates. The number of incidents reported in Nigeria has also dropped noticeably, down to 13 in the first nine months of 2014, from 29 in the same period last year.
Elsewhere in the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana recorded four incidents in 2014, having recorded none in 2013.
This includes the hijackings of two product tankers — and theft of their cargoes — and of a fishing vessel and the taking hostage of 86 crew members.
So far this year, 178 incidents have been reported worldwide, down from 352 for the corresponding period in 2011.
In the first nine months of 2014, pirates killed three crew, kidnapped five from their vessels and took 369 seafarers hostage.
A total of 17 vessels were hijacked, 124 were boarded and 10 came under fire. There were reports of 27 further attempted attacks.
“It’s encouraging to see the huge decrease in maritime piracy and armed robbery over the last few years, thanks mainly to international navies deterring pirates off east Africa, and improved on-board security,” said IMB director, Pottengal Mukundan.
“However, there has been a worrying new rise in attacks against small coastal tankers in Southeast Asia.
“We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters and report all attacks and suspicious small craft to the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre.”
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