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Pirates shift their focus to easier targets

A MARITIME watchdog has urged an international naval coalition patrolling the waters off northern Somalia to extend its watch to the country's eastern and southern coast.

The call by the International Maritime Bureau came amid a spike in attacks in the area.

The latest attack occurred late on Monday when pirates fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at a South Korean bulk carrier off eastern Somalia. The vessel managed to escape after carrying out evasive maneuvers, the IMB's piracy reporting center said.

This brought the number of attacks on ships off eastern and southern Somalia to 10 since March 22, including two vessels that were hijacked, said Noel Choong, who heads the piracy center in Kuala Lumpur.

In contrast, he said there was only one reported attack during the same period in the Gulf of Aden, to the north of Somalia, because of the international anti-piracy task force protecting those waters.

As a result, pirates have turned their attention to easier targets ?? ships in unpatrolled waters off Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

"We call upon the international coalition to also send warships to the east and south of Somalia to help curb increased attacks in the area," Choong said. "We are aware that it is impossible to patrol the vast waters off Somalia but military presence there will act as a deterrent," he added.

More than a dozen warships from countries including Britain, the United States, China and Germany are patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

In the latest case there, seven pirates mistook German naval ship FGS Spessart for a commercial ship and opened fire on Sunday but were chased and captured by international forces.

Choong said 54 ships have been attacked in Somali waters this year, including seven that were hijacked. Pirates are still holding eight vessels and 151 crew members for ransom.


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