Today we take to the high seas to bring you latest reports of a surge in world piracy attacks and the resulting cost to the economy.

The number of people taken hostage at sea and the number of vessels taken in 2010 rose to record levels, according to annual data from the ICC International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB).

Pirates captured 1,181 seafarers in 2010, up 12.5 percent from 1,050 in 2009, while a total of 53 ships were hijacked in 2010, of which all but four occurred off the coast of Somalia. Eight crewmembers died in these incidents.

Overall, ships reported 445 pirate attacks in 2010, up 10 percent from 2009, the IMB said.

The IMB describes the continued increase in these numbers as “alarming”:

As a percentage of global incidents, piracy on the high seas has increased dramatically over armed robbery in territorial waters.”

Hijackings off the coast of Somalia accounted for 92 percent of all ship seizures last year, with 49 vessels hijacked and 1,016 crew members taken hostage. A total of 28 vessels and 638 hostages were still being held for ransom by Somali pirates as of 31 December 2010.

While attacks off the coast of Somalia remain high, the good news is that the number of incidents in the Gulf of Aden more than halved last year, with 53 attacks in 2010 down from 117 in 2009.

The IMB attributed the reduction to the deterrence work of naval forces that have been patrolling the area since 2008 and to ships’ application of self-protection measures.

An article in the Washington Post has more on this story. Follow the IMB record of piracy and armed robbery incidents on Twitter and view latest attacks on the IMB Live Piracy Map.

Meanwhile, Insurance Journal reports that a new study from think tank One Earth Future (OEF), estimates that maritime piracy cost the international economy between $7 billion and $12 billion in 2010.

OEF’s calculation includes costs related to ransoms, insurance premiums, re-routing ships, security equipment, naval forces, prosecutions, anti-piracy organizations, and cost to regional economies. OEF noted that the numbers could change substantially as the economy rebounds from the current economic recession.