Attacks by pirates around the world have already surpassed figures for all of last year, a global report said Wednesday.
They're becoming more frequent, and more violent, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said. In the first nine months of this year, it recorded 306 incidents compared with 293 attacks in all of 2008.
The attacks are wreaking havoc with global trade routes and causing insurance premiums for big ships to rise. Somali pirates have extended their reach this year, the report said, from the Gulf of Aden and East Coast of Somalia into the southern region of the Red Sea, the Bab el Mandab Straits and the East Coast of Oman.
The increase in Somali pirate activity is "unprecedented," the bureau said, adding the region is "the number one piracy hotspot."
The number of incidents where guns were used has more than tripled from the same period last year.
The increased violence comes at a critical point for global trade, which plunged earlier this year and is starting to recover amid increased demand from China.
In the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest trade routes, the number of attacks doubled to 100 incidents this year compared to 2008. The gulf, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, sees almost a third of the world's containerized cargo and 4 per cent of the world's daily oil, according to a paper by Strategic Foresight Group.
Attacks off the Somali Coast almost quadrupled to 47 incidents from 12 in the same period last year, the quarterly report said.
Attacks have subsided from earlier this year. The number of incidents in the third quarter was much lower than in the first and second quarter of this year as monsoons kept pirates away in the Gulf of Aden.
Extra security may also be playing a role. "Enhanced security measures by vessels have also made it difficult for pirates to succeed in their attacks," said the bureau's director Captain Pottengal Mukundan.
Pirate attacks have continued this month, though. Earlier this week, Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean captured a Chinese carrier, and are holding 25 sailors hostage. Chinese officials have since warned its ships to steer clear of the area.
Globally, 114 vessels were boarded, 34 vessels hijacked and 88 vessels fired upon in the first nine months of this year, the report said. A total of 661 crewmembers were taken hostage, 12 kidnapped and six killed.
Nigeria remains another area of "high concern." While only 20 attacks were officially reported information received from "external sources" suggest that at least half of attacks on vessels, mostly related to the oil industry, have gone unreported.
Chittagong port in Bangladesh has also seen more attacks, while incidents in the South China Sea have reached a five-year high.
The International Maritime Bureau is part of the International Chamber of Commerce in the U.K.