Pirate attacks off the Somali coast appear to be mainly opportunistic and there is no indication that vessels are targeted with the help of intelligence from international contacts, a maritime watchdog said Friday.

The International Maritime Bureau said there was no evidence to support media reports that individuals with access to information about shipping routes and cargoes may be helping pirates to locate the most vulnerable ships, and ones most likely to yield large ransoms.

Pirate raids on vessels off the Horn of Africa have surged this year, confounding authorities who have been hard-pressed to curb the assaults despite the deployment of an international task force of military craft.

Many experts and authorities believe the pirates target ships almost at random, but the burgeoning business of collecting ransoms from shipping companies eager to free their crews and cargoes has triggered a debate about the degree of sophistication of the assailants.

“Further allegations have been made in the press that London-based information channels have been utilized to provide intelligence to the pirate gangs,” the London-based bureau said. “There is no evidence to support these allegations.”

“Further, there is no information in the public domain that would enable pirates to precisely locate a targeted vessel at sea and then to mount a successful attack off the Horn of Africa,” it said.

The bureau said attacked vessels included fishing boats, bulk carriers and a supertanker, with assorted cargoes bound for a variety of ports. It said pirates have tried to attack naval units, mistakenly believing them to be merchant ships.

“Pirates target vessels that are easy to board and in their vicinity,” the bureau said. “If an attack is successfully repelled they move on to another vessel.”

On Wednesday, the commander of the European Union’s naval task force said searches of captured “mother” pirate ships operating off the Somali coast have revealed for the first time that gangs are coordinating their attacks against commercial shipping.

But British Rear Admiral Philip Jones said he was “bemused” by media reports that the pirates were receiving intelligence on the movement of commercial shipping from sources in the West, adding that the searches of the mother ships had yielded no such evidence.

Despite the international naval presence, attacks on commercial shipping off the Somali coast have increased in the last two months as pirates have taken to sailing far out into the Indian Ocean to attack vessels beyond the patrol range of the warships.  – AP

Pirate Attacks on Sailing Yachts. Piracy Warnings for Sailboats 2009

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