KUALA LUMPUR -- Nigeria and Somalia are the world's most dangerous hotspots for seafarers, with pirate attacks surging in the first quarter of this year, a marine watchdog said Wednesday.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded 49 incidents worldwide in the period, compared with 41 last year. Nigeria alone recorded 10 attacks against six last year.
"The problem is in Nigeria and Somalia," London-based IMB director Pottengal Mukundan told Agence France-Presse.
Nigeria now ranks as the number one hotspot in the world this quarter, overtaking Indonesia for the first time in 16 years, the IMB said.
"Vessels have been fired upon and crew injured as a result. Many of the attacks are concentrated off Lagos," it said.
Indonesia, which fell to third spot, saw just four attacks in the first quarter compared with nine previously.
Worldwide, seven crew members were taken hostage, six kidnapped, three killed and one missing presumed dead during the period, it said.
The watchdog said the attackers were usually heavily armed with guns or knives.
"The use and threat of violence against crew members remains unacceptably high," it said.
IMB said there were five attacks in the Gulf of Eden, just north of the coast of Somalia, a country in chaos for nearly two decades, compared to three in the last quarter.
"In Somalia, there is no enforcement agency. Some of the local militia are supporting the pirates. It is a source of income for them," Pottengal said.
Pottengal said pirates off Somalia were now targeting ships in the Gulf of Eden as they head into the Suez Canel.
"Since we had advised ships to stay 200 miles off the coast of Somalia, the pirates have moved up north to the Gulf of Eden for better picking off the ships," he said.
IMB said the attacks in the Gulf of Aden were all aimed at hijacking the vessel and taking it to small ports on the eastern coast of Somalia.
There has been no functioning government in Somalia for the past 17 years.
Pottengal said there had been no reported incidents for the busy Malacca Strait, which divides Malaysia and Indonesia, this quarter compared to two in the last quarter.
"We are delighted that there are no attacks in the first quarter. All credit should go to the Indonesian navy. But there is no room for complacency. We need to put pressure on the pirates if the attacks are not to resume," he said.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore carry out numerous joint patrols in the key waterway, which handles 30 percent of all sea traffic globally.