Pirate attacks double in Southeast Asia even as global numbers fall

A tanker travels through the Singapore Strait July 7, 2014. Since April, at least six fuel tankers have been hijacked and drained in the Malacca Strait or nearby waters of the South China Sea, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). — Reuters pic
A tanker travels through the Singapore Strait July 7, 2014. Since April, at least six fuel tankers have been hijacked and drained in the Malacca Strait or nearby waters of the South China Sea, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — Pirate attacks along the waters off Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have nearly doubled this year compared to two years ago, with armed gangs hijacking small tankers, stealing cargo, kidnapping, and sometimes murdering ships’ crew, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) revealed today.

The Financial Times reported that IMB, the agency responsible for monitoring global piracy noted that globally, there had been 178 incidents of attempted and actual vessel hijackings this year, down from 352 for the same period in 2011. The decline was in its third consecutive year.

However, the figure for Southeast Asia over the same nine-month period has almost doubled from 54 in 2011 to 103 this year, IMB told the daily.

“There has been a worrying new rise in attacks against small coastal tankers in southeast Asia.

“We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters and report all attacks and suspicious small craft,” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan.

He added that the worst affected area was Indonesia’s Bintan Island, which is near Singapore, making it the world’s single worst piracy spot by number of incidents in the first nine months of this year.

The report noted that the Malacca Strait, a channel between Malaysia and Indonesia, has been plagued by piracy for centuries.

The spike in recent years however, was due to more, usually smaller, vessels anchoring offshore to transfer cargo, to avoid port charges, which proved to be easy targets for armed gangs.

In its report, the IMB said of the six vessels hijacked worldwide in the third quarter alone, five were in Southeast Asia.

Gerald Yee, a partner at law firm Clyde & Co, in Singapore told the Financial Times that insurance premiums are rising as a result of more pirate attacks.

“In the first nine months of 2014, pirates killed three crew, kidnapped five from their vessels and took 369 seafarers hostage. A total of 17 vessels were hijacked, 124 were boarded and 10 were fired upon. There were 27 further reports of attempted attacks,” the Financial Times reported.

Marianna Choo, general manager of the Singapore Shipping Association, said the matter is of a huge concern and SSA is working closely with authorities to address this.

“We are trying our best to keep all our members informed and to inform all ships that are transiting this area to keep a very watchful eye,” she told the financial daily.

The latest reported attack was on August 28 when a lube oil tanker had its cargo stolen by pirates near Tioman Island in the South China Sea.

Industry news site Marine Insight reported that six pirates armed with guns boarded the Thailand-registered tanker, which was en-route from Singapore to Bangkok carrying 1,396 tonnes of lube oil.

The attackers took control of the vessel, sailed for about 10 nautical miles, and forced the crew to transfer the cargo to two other tankers.  The pirates stole personal belongings from the crew and damaged the ship’s navigational and communications systems.

No crew was injured in the attack, and the ship was able to sail to the shore and report the incident.

The attack was the tenth in the South China Sea since April.

Related Articles