Pirate Attacks Off Somalia's Coast Are on the Rise

A Ukrainian cargo ship loaded with weaponry remains in the hands of Somali hijackers.

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There has been a "fairly dramatic rise" in the number of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia—and in the brazenness of attacks, according to a new analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The issue has come into sharp focus with last month's hijacking of the Ukrainian freighter the MV Faina, which was carrying tanks, grenade launchers, and antiaircraft guns. The pirates on board, currently surrounded by U.S. warships, are demanding a $20 million ransom for the release of the ship, cargo, and crew.

In a separate incident, 22 Asian sailors were released after being held for more than a month after their South Korean cargo vessel was hijacked. There was no immediate indication about whether any ransom was paid.

But, on average, pirates tend to garner ransoms of $1 million per hijacked vessel, according to Jennifer Cooke, a CSIS analyst who studies piracy.

The question remains, adds Cooke, where the Ukrainian freighter was bound with the arms shipments. While Kenya's government says it is for use by its military, U.S. naval sources believe that it "is likely bound" for the government of southern Sudan, says Cooke.

The semiautonomous government of southern Sudan is preparing for clashes that may come on the heels of what are expected to be tense national elections next year.