PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - Australia called on Friday for tougher action against piracy in the Indian Ocean and announced it would host an international conference next year to help tackle the growing problem.
Pirates attacked a record number of ships worldwide in the first nine months of 2011, but are making off with fewer vessels due to better policing by international naval forces.
"Piracy off the Horn of Africa has seen murders and hundreds of seafarers taken hostage," Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd told an Indian Ocean Piracy Forum on the sidelines of a Commonwealth summit in the west Australian city of Perth.
"Piracy has also increased the costs of international trade, and done enormous harm to regional countries' fishing and tourist industries. More must be done to prosecute, convict and imprison pirates," he said.
Cooperation between Somalia's al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants and pirate gangs is growing as they become more desperate for funding, said the head of the U.N.'s counter-piracy unit, John Steed.
Rudd said next year's conference in Perth would seek to assist Somalia and other states tackle the drivers of piracy and compare counter-piracy cooperation in other regions, such as Southeast Asia where the number of attacks has been on the decline.
(Reporting by Michael Perry, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)