* Piracy, armed attacks on ships in Asia at highest since 2006
* Armed guards not a solution to attacks -security expert
* ReCAAP proposing extension of navy, coast guard patrols
By Keith Wallis
SINGAPORE Jan 14 (Reuters) - Asia accounted for three-quarters of global maritime piracy last year after a surge in tanker hijackings helped to fuel a 22 percent jump in armed robbery and pirate attacks on ships in the region.
There were 183 actual and attempted piracy and robbery of ships in Asian waters last year, against 150 in 2013, a intergovernmental anti-piracy group told shipping industry and law enforcement personnel on Wednesday.
This put Asia’s share of the total at 75 percent, after the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released its global report for 2014 showing there were 245 actual and attempted acts of piracy worldwide last year.
In 2013, piracy in Asia accounted for less than 60 percent of the total. However, attacks in Asia are mainly low level theft compared with kidnappings and more violent hijackings off West Africa and Somalia.
The number of attacks in Asia last year is the highest since 2006, when the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), a co-ordinating body with 20 government members, started compiling incident reports.
The rise in Asian piracy last year was due to the surge in tanker hijackings and better reporting by ship owners, ReCAAP deputy director Nicholas Teo told Reuters on Wednesday.
“There is no hiding the fact the 22 percent increase is significant and worrying,” said Tim Wilkins, Asia regional manager for international tanker owners group, Intertanko.
While 114 attacks reported by ReCAAP were thefts from ships, mainly at ports and anchorages, the danger to crews should not be ignored, he said.
“The threat of violence is still reasonably significant,” Wilkins told Reuters.
An engineer died after being shot by pirates who seized a tanker near Singapore in December, one of 15 tanker hijacking in Asia last year.
In addition, 12 tankers in Asian waters had their gasoil cargoes siphoned and stolen last year.
Putting armed guards onboard ships passing through the Malacca Strait and nearby waters - where many of the attacks occur - was not a solution and could increase the danger to sailors, a maritime security expert said.
“Using armed guards against hijackings, cargo thefts and shipboard robbery incidents around Singapore could result in an escalation in the level of violence used by the perpetrators,” said Mark Thomas, Asia Pacific business development manager at maritime security consultancy Dryad Maritime in Singapore.
ReCAAP is proposing an extension of naval and coast guard patrols from the Malacca Strait into the South China Sea to help combat tanker hijackings and piracy incidents, Teo said. (Editing by Tom Hogue)