Chinese researchers say they can predict if a particular vessel with a specific cargo on a given area of ocean is likely to be targeted by pirates.
Researchers in Hong Kong analyzing the incidence of maritime piracy during the last decade said they can even predict what degree of violence might be involved in an act of piracy.
Writing in the International Journal of Shipping and Transport Logistics, researchers said data from the ICC International Maritime Bureau allowed them to assess the type of criminal action that takes place, whether hijacking for ransom or direct theft, and to report on the approach taken by the pirates in terms of arms and violence.
Bulk carriers, general cargo ships, container ships, chemical tankers and tankers were the most-frequently targeted vessels, accounting for more than three-quarters of all ships attacked during the 2002-2009 period, they said.
"In general, merchant ships are not designed or equipped to fend off pirates' attacks and thus they are susceptible to pirate activities, including boarding, hostage-taking and stealing cargo," the researchers wrote.
While valuable cargoes, including gas, oil, rice and fishing products, are commonly targeted, whole vessels might also be hijacked and held for ransom. Kidnapping by pirates is also on the rise, they said.
In terms of violence, attacks categorized as low-level or no violence usually involve largely untrained pirates with simple weapons attacking berthed or anchored vessels and stealing goods or supplies.
Medium-level violence usually involves threats, assault and sometimes hostage-taking. In major violent piracy, people are attacked and/or kidnapped, the researchers said.