|A total of 97 attacks were recorded off Somalia in the first quarter, up from 35 in the same period last year [EPA]
A conference to tackle maritime piracy has opened in Dubai as attacks hit record numbers despite international naval efforts to stem the activity.
The two-day conference, themed "Global Challenge, Regional Responses: Forging a Common Approach to Maritime Piracy", is attended by shipping industry leaders, foreign ministers and independent experts.
It focuses on "the widespread threats of piracy and collaborative means to eradicate it," a statement said.
"Both public and private initiatives to counter the devastating effects of piracy on the captives and their families and communities as well as the threat it poses to peace and security internationally will be discussed," said the statement.
Representatives from more than 50 countries are attending the conference.
Piracy on the rise
The conference comes days after the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said that worldwide pirate attacks in the first three months of 2011, driven mainly by Somali pirates, were the highest ever, at 142 attacks.
"Figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea in the past three months are higher than we've ever recorded in the first quarter of any past year," said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre, which has monitored incidents worldwide since 1991.
A total of 97 attacks were recorded off the coast of Somalia in the first quarter of this year, up from 35 in the same period last year, an IMB report said.
Worldwide, pirates hijacked 18 vessels and took 344 crew members as hostage, and kidnapped six seafarers from their boats. Another 45 vessels were boarded, and 45 more reported being fired upon.
International naval forces have carried out concerted efforts against Somali pirates for over two years.
Combined Task Force 151, a counter-piracy force under the Bahrain-based Combined Maritime Forces, was established in January 2009, while the European Union's Operation Atalanta anti-piracy mission began a month earlier.
NATO forces also began conducting counter-piracy operations in 2008, while countries including Russia, China, India and Iran have independently deployed ships on such missions.
All the operations face a range of challenges including: patrolling a vast area; difficulties in prosecuting pirates; and the lack of a unified command structure to co-ordinate efforts.
Somalia has been without a stable government and torn by civil war since the 1991 overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre.
In a country severely lacking in opportunities, piracy can lead to huge profits.
Somali pirates said on Tuesday that they had received a ransom of $5m to release the MV Thor Nexus, a Thai cargo vessel hijacked on December 25.
The United Arab Emirates, the conference's small, oil-rich Gulf host, had a recent direct encounter with pirates, when its special forces on April 2 freed an Abu Dhabi-owned ship seized by pirates east of Oman in the Arabian Sea.