for National Geographic News
Piracy may seem like a romanticized scourge of the past.
In reality, piracy is flourishing from Sumatra to Somalia, and today's pirates are far from the lovable rogues who populate swashbuckling movies like the new Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
"There's nothing romantic about piracy," said Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), based in London, England.
"These are ruthless people who are heavily armed and prey on people that are weaker than them."
IMB is a division of the Paris, France-based International Chamber of Commerce, which combats all types of business-related crime and malpractice.
According to IMB, pirate attacks around the world tripled in the decade between 1993 and 2003.
In 2003 alone there were 445 actual or attempted attacks in which 16 people were killed.
In the first three months of 2006, there were 61 successful or attempted attacks, compared to 56 incidents in the same period last year.
At least 63 people have been taken hostage this yeartwice the number of hostages taken in the same period last year.
World's Most Dangerous Waters
Modern pirates prey mostly on cargo ships but also on fishing vessels, according to IMB.
Low-end pirates may not be interested in the cargo being transported. Instead they will board a ship and hold up the crew long enough to steal the large amounts of cash that many ships carry for payroll and port fees.
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