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A global maritime watchdog says ship hijackings declined in 2015 from a year earlier, while sea piracy incidents increased slightly but consisted mostly of low-level theft

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A global maritime watchdog said Tuesday that ship hijackings declined in 2015 from a year earlier, while sea piracy incidents increased slightly but consisted mostly of low-level theft.

The International Maritime Bureau said in its annual piracy report that 246 piracy incidents were recorded worldwide, one up from 2014. It said pirates hijacked 15 vessels and held 271 hostages, down from 21 ships and 442 hostages in 2014.

It attributed the drop in hijackings to a fall in attacks against small fuel tankers around Southeast Asia's coasts, the last of which occurred in August. It praised Malaysian and Indonesian authorities for taking swift action to arrest and prosecute two gangs that hijacked tankers, including the arrest of some alleged masterminds.

The bureau, whose piracy reporting center is based in Kuala Lumpur, said Southeast Asia accounted for most of the world's incidents. It said almost 55 percent of the attacks were against vessels that were underway, mostly involving low-level theft, but that this was a worrying trend because it increased the potential risks to the vessels and their crews.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2012 file photo, masked Somali pirate Hassan stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore after the pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew, in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia. A global maritime watchdog said Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016 that ship hijackings declined in 2015 from a year earlier, while sea piracy incidents increased slightly but consisted mostly of low-level theft. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2012 file photo, masked Somali pirate Hassan stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore after the pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew, in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia. A global maritime watchdog said Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016 that ship hijackings declined in 2015 from a year earlier, while sea piracy incidents increased slightly but consisted mostly of low-level theft. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)

In Africa, Nigeria remained a hotspot for violent piracy and armed robbery. It said it received reports of 14 incidents, with many other attacks believed to have not been reported.

No attacks were reported last year in Somalia, once a danger zone, thanks to international naval patrols. With industry-defined high-risk areas reduced by 55 percent, the bureau warned vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean to stay vigilant.

"Somalia remains a fragile state and the potential for an attack remains high. It will only take one successful hijacking to undo all that has been done and rekindle this criminal activity," said its director, Pottengal Mukundan.

In Asia, incidents in Vietnam surged to 27 from seven in 2014, largely low-level theft against anchored vessels.

China recorded four incidents in December alone, the first in a long time. This included three thefts of bunker diesel oil from large bulk carriers off Tianjin.

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