Piracy hit an all-time high worldwide in the first three months of 2011 led by a surge in incidents off the coast of Somalia, a maritime watchdog said on Thursday.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said its reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur recorded 142 piracy incidents from January to March this year, compared to 67 in the same period last year.
Of the 142 incidents which comprised attacks on ships, hijacking and boardings, 97 took place off the coast of Somalia.
"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," IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement.
Mukundan said that Somali pirates hijacked 15 ships from January to March 2011 and were holding captive 596 crew members on 28 ships as of March 31 this year.
Foreign navies have been deployed off the Gulf of Aden which links Europe to Asia since the start of 2009 but the number of attacks have increased as pirates are striking further away from Somalia's shores to avoid naval patrols.
"We're seeing a dramatic increase in the violence and techniques used by pirates in the seas off Somalia," said Mukundan.