The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said that in the first nine months of the year 344 attacks or attempted attacks on ships at sea, at anchor or in port were reported worldwide compared to 271 in 2002 and 253 in 2001.

“This is the highest number of attacks for the first nine months of any year since the IMB began compiling statistics in 1991,” Pottengal Mukundan, London-based IMB director said in a statement, AFP reported.

“There is a clear increase in the use of guns and knives in the attacks,” he added. 

Toll rises
  
The number of crew killed increased to 20 as compared to six in 2002. The number of attacks using guns rose to 77 from 49, the London-based IMB said in a report by its Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

“This is the highest number of attacks for the first nine months of any year since the IMB began compiling statistics in 1991”

Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB 

So far this year 43 crew members are listed as missing.

The IMB said "the increase in violence is of great concern," and identified Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria and the Malacca Straits between Indonesia and Malaysia as trhe prime hunting grounds of modern day brigands.

Indonesian waters were the most buccaneer-prone with 87 incidents in which 85 seafarers were taken hostage and two killed.

Rocket launchers

In one case in August, eight pirates armed with machine guns and a grenade launcher opened fire and boarded the Malaysian registered "Penrider" tanker from a fishing boat.

They sailed the ship into Indonesian waters and took the master, chief engineer and a crewman hostage, leaving the ship to continue its passage.
  
The trio were later released after an undisclosed ransom was paid.
  
Bangladesh was ranked second for piracy with 37 attacks, Nigeria third with 28, while the Malacca Straits, the world’s busiest shipping route, saw 24 attacks.