KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — World sea piracy fell to its lowest level in eight years in 2014, but ship hijackings rose due to attacks against small tankers off Southeast Asia's coasts, a global maritime watchdog said Wednesday.
Pirates hijacked 21 ships last year and took 442 crew members hostage, up from 12 vessels and 304 crew members in 2013, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said in its annual piracy report.
It said global pirate attacks fell to 245, a 44 percent drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011, and down from 264 in 2013. Somali pirates were responsible for only 11 attacks last year, all of which were thwarted, but there were 124 attacks in Southeast Asia, it said.
"The global increase in hijackings is due to a rise in attacks against coastal tankers in South East Asia," IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said. The IMB's piracy reporting center is based in Kuala Lumpur.
"Gangs of armed thieves have attacked small tankers in the region for their cargoes, many looking specifically for marine diesel and gas oil to steal and then sell," he said in a statement.
The report said most of the attacks in the region were aimed at low-level theft from vessels using guns and long knives. However, it warned that the hijackings may become increasingly violent, citing the case of a crew member who was shot dead on his bitumen tanker in December.
It said pirates were particularly active in waters around Bintan island and the South China Sea, where 11 vessels were hijacked last year.
It commended the Indonesian, Malaysian and other maritime forces in the region for increased patrols, and called for the gangs to be caught and punished before the attacks become more violent.
In other parts of the world, the report said 41 incidents were reported in West Africa with five vessels hijacked, while Bangladesh reported 21 attacks, up from 12 in 2013.