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Increasing Maritime Piracy in Southeast Asia

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

January 12, 2015

Does piracy off the coast of South-East Asia pose a threat? The answer is yes. Shipping lanes in Southeast Asia, one of the world’s busiest trade routes, have been hit by a “worrying new rise” in piracy. How is maritime piracy threatening South-East Asia and to what extent? 

Piracy is mushrooming in the area of the Strait of Malacca, Singapore Strait, Bangladesh, South China Sea and Vietnam, a shipping bottleneck that sees one-third of the world's annual commercial maritime traffic, making it the busiest waterway on earth. They no longer fly the skull and crossbones flag, instead clambering aboard ships wielding guns and knives under the cover of darkness.
Modern piracy is surging in the waters of south-east Asia, especially in the Strait of Malacca, a narrow, 500-mile stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an important passageway between China and India, used heavily for commercial trade. It is a bottleneck for 50,000 ships a year carrying more than a third of the world's shipping trade.
Latest reports from media and the International Maritime Bureau, the body responsible for monitoring global piracy, say that the small tanker hijacks by armed gangs were escalating in the waters off Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Pirates operating in Southeast Asia seek cargo and tend not to hold hostages for ransom like Somali pirates.
In Bangladesh's coasts, piracy and armed robbery along have doubled, raising the number of incidents to 11 in 2014 from six in 2013, officials said. Singapore-based organization - the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) has expressed its concern over the rise of incidents and urged Bangladesh to take steps to combat it, they added.
The report said eight out of 11 incidents involved robbers carrying knives but in most cases, they were not violent except in the incident involving Singapore-registered LPG tanker Gas Batam where the robbers assaulted the duty watchman on deck by throwing stones at him.
There were 129 reported cases of piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia from January to September, the highest number in at least eight years, according to ReCAAP, a 20-country organization set up to combat piracy and armed robbery in Asia.
ReCAAP has reported 20 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in November 2014: a gain on the 17 cases reported at the same time last year. The December report is not available.
Many other incidents are unreported, anti-piracy experts say, because some shippers want to avoid their names being associated with lax security or lost cargoes.
ReCAAP continues to advice vigilance, as in the case of the attempted robbery of Oriental Glory whose eagle-eyed crew sighted a suspicious boat and scuppered a boarding attempt by pirates.
Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, a not-for-profit organization argues that five factors are of particular importance in shaping piracy in south-east Asia: "over-fishing, lax maritime regulations, the existence of organized crime syndicates, the presence of radical politically motivated groups in the region, and widespread poverty."
Highly organized criminal gangs are plaguing the waterways: stealing cargoes of liquid fuel, sometimes using their own tankers to carry the stolen product to prearranged buyers.
Since the late 1980s, south-east Asia has become one of the world's most dangerous areas for pirate attacks on merchant vessels and fishing boats. In the first quarter of 2014, Indonesia accounted for 25 of the 49 attacks worldwide.  According to data from the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre, Indonesian ports and territorial waters have been identified as the most pirate-infested in south-east Asia.
The governments in these countries have cautioned marine transport companies and asked them to strictly follow safety protocols and maintain frequent communications with their dispatchers.
The United States has silently joined the ReCAAP. The move is consistent with the strategic thinking driving the United States’ “pivot” to Asia. The U.S. becomes the 20th member of ReCAAP.

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