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Spanish warships escort the "Alakrana" fishing vessel on route to Victoria Port in the Seychelles Islands. The ship was held for ransom for 47 days by Somali pirates. - 


Bill Radke: Somali pirates fired shots at a merchant ship in the Indian Ocean last night. No reports of casualties, and the pirates did not board the ship. This follows the hijacking this week of a tanker and a cargo ship off the East Coast of Africa. And as Stephen Beard reports, it is the latest incident in a record year of Somali piracy.

Stephen Beard: They've attacked 214 ships this year, and hijacked 47 of them. Shipowners have paid out ransom money reckoned to run into millions of dollars.

Governments are trying to crack down. Europe, the U.S., China and other nations have sent as naval task-force to the region. Thirty warships are now on constant patrol.

But, says Graeme Gibbon-Brooks of Dryad Maritime Intelligence, that's barely a drop in the Indian Ocean:

Graeme Gibbon-Brooks: Technically, it's extremely difficult for the navy to patrol such a large area specifically looking for targets that are very, very small. It would be analogous to trying patrol the whole eastern seaboard of the United States with 30 police cars.

He says the pirates are operating further out at sea using larger ocean-going vessels. He thinks the current upsurge in piracy will continue at least until March -- when the weather will make boarding at sea more difficult.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.