Hong Kong shipowners have voiced concern over a record number of piracy attacks plaguing the world's sea lanes this year. Their fears have been raised as Southeast Asia continues to be the biggest problem area, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre. Eighty-seven of the 344 attacks reported worldwide to September were in Indonesian waters. Total attacks were up from last year by 27 per cent to September, and the use of guns, knives and loss of life has become increasingly common. 'The attacks are certainly becoming more brutal in nature,' said Captain Jayant Abhyankar, the bureau's London-based deputy director. He blames the escalating problem in Southeast Asia on the lack of response from law enforcement officials. Eighty-five mariners were taken hostage in Indonesian waters and two were killed. Nine died during attacks in Philippine waters in the first nine months of the year. The Hong Kong Shipowners Association said none of the vessels attacked were locally owned or registered. But with the number of vessels flagged and owned in Hong Kong growing by the month, piracy is again a local concern - as it was about five years ago, when the Asian epicentre was in the South China Sea between Hainan, Hong Kong and Luzon in the Philippines. 'It's worrying, but it is a very difficult problem for the commercial sector to tackle,' said Gilbert Feng Jiapei, assistant director of the association. 'It really needs to be addressed from a governmental level. 'Four or five years ago there were quite a number of attacks in the South China Sea, but China took the problem seriously and it subsided,' he said. Twenty seafarers lost their lives in the first nine months of this year, compared with six last year, as attacks involving guns increased by almost 60 per cent to 77. 'Only about two or three of the pirates responsible for the attacks this year were caught,' said Captain Abhyankar. '[The law enforcement officials] either aren't paying attention, or they have different priorities.' Captain Abhyankar said the gangs were becoming more organised and the weapons and methods they were using indicated they were better financed than before. There is also the worrying and unprecedented trend of pirates hijacking ships and barges to ransom the crew and sell the vessels, meaning mariners are being targeted even if their vessels are empty. Twenty-three crew have been taken during attacks in the Strait of Malacca this year, and most are being held for ransom.