Maritime security concerns growing
Written by Steven Jones
Piracy and hijacking are hitting all-time highs in Southeast Asia as oil demand and a thriving black market continue to drive maritime attacks in the region. In an incredible display of capability and tenacity, pirates hit six vessels in the Malacca and Singapore Straits in less than 30 hours over one weekend. The pirates eventually managed to successfully board five, which demonstrates just how vulnerable shipping remains.
According to the industry watchdog, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC), all the incidents took place in the eastbound lane of the traffic separation scheme (TSS).
The vessels involved were the tankers, “Advantage Summer”, “Navig8 Stealth” and “Elbtank Denmark”; the containerships “Maersk Lebu” and “Atout”; and the bulk carrier “Peace Bright”.
Intelligence company Dryad Maritime has echoed the concerns in the region, in their latest report they state piracy incidents in Southeast Asia are up 38 percent in the first nine months of the year. The report claims that pirate and criminal gangs are operating with “apparent impunity”.
The company said there had been a “stark rise” in attacks in Southeast Asia with 194 incidents in the first nine months of 2015 compared to 140 a year earlier. The apparent willingness and ability of maritime gangs operating in the region has led the industry to call upon the three nations surrounding the Singapore Strait to provide a permanent security presence to deter criminals and to protect maritime trade.
Oil crime syndicate
The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) believes an oil smuggling syndicate is behind the hijacking of vessels carrying bunkers and oil cargoes in the area. ReCAAP said in its latest update that vessels were hijacked when it was dark and taken to siphon off the fuel cargo.
Following the six attacks there have been calls for shipping companies to strengthen their approach to maritime security in South East Asia. Gerry Northwood OBE, COO of maritime security company MAST, said: “Shipping companies need to look at Best Management Practices (BMP) 4 applied in the Indian Ocean and now adapt it to counter the threat posed by local criminals in SE Asia.” BMP4 has been effective in providing a framework for passive security measures, such as watch-keeping and enhanced vigilance, and the hardening of vessels transiting through the Indian Ocean”.
The six attacks have obviously focused attention on the area, but they were not the only ones. According to maritime security company PGI Risk Portal, 11 percent of the world’s maritime hijacking took place in Malaysian and Indonesian waters. Though the majority of these robberies were small scale, it illustrates the growing trend in Asia.
Despite a leap in attacks, and even with local Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) broadcasting reports, there has been very little involvement from regional security forces. The response of deploying a patrol boat to the area after the event can be seen as too little, too late. This approach to security is proving frustrating to many observers.
Much of the debate on piracy comes down to reporting and data. This is unfortunately something of a thorny subject – recently academics became hot under the collar as they argued over which data sets are better… International Maritime Bureau (IMB) or ReCAAP.
A leading academic Sam Bateman questioned recent IMB data which indicates a rise in piracy and incidents at sea in Southeast Asia. He strongly favoured the data from ReCAAP. While another leading body, the Lowy Institute has been backing the IMB.
While the academics can debate the data, it seems that with both reporting agencies, the IMB and ReCAAP figures showing year-on-year increases of incidents in SE Asia, there is a strong suggestion that action is needed.
New security presence
Perhaps prompted by criticism, or by the growing concern that action was urgently needed Malaysia and Indonesia acted swiftly to form a joint rapid deployment team. The Indonesian Navy is based on Batam Island and intends to deploy two armed helicopters in an effort to secure the Malacca Strait. The Malaysian side is based in Johor and will support the piracy efforts with one helicopter.