Piracy at sea is at its lowest level in six years, with 264 attacks recorded, a 40% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011.
The drop in worldwide piracy attacks has greatly been due to the dramatic drop of incidents recorded in waters off Somalia. In 2013, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported fifteen incidents off Somalia. According to its records, this is down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011. The increase of armed guards on vessels, coupled with international navy patrols and the “stabilizing influence” of Somalia’s government have aided in deterring pirate. According to Pottengal Mukundan, IMB’s director, “the single biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa,” adding that “it is imperative to continue combined international efforts to tackle Somali piracy. Any complacency at this stage could re-kindle pirate activity.”
The IMB’s annual global piracy report has indicated that more than 300 people were taken hostage at sea in 2013 and 21 were injured, nearly all with guns or knives.
Examining global piracy figures, Indonesia witnessed the most pirate attacks last year, accounting for more than 50 of all reported incidents. However it must be noted that attacks in waters of Indonesia were “low-level opportunistic thefts, not to be compared with the more serious incidents off Africa.” Piracy off West Africa made up 19% of attacks worldwide in 2013. According to the IMB report, Nigerian pirates accounted for 31 of the region’s 51 attacks. These attacks were “particularly violent,” with one crew member killed, and thirty-six people kidnapped and held onshore for ransom.
In November 2013, a United Nations and World Bank report indicated that pirates operating off the Horn of Africa, which are some of the world’s busiest shipping and humanitarian aid routes, had netted more than US $400 million (£251 million) in ransom money between 2005 and 2012.
Meanwhile in neighboring Kenya, the trial of four men charged over the Westgate shopping centre siege began in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
The four suspected foreigners have denied the charges of aiding a “terrorist group,” and of being in Kenya illegally. However none of the men – named as Mohammed Ahmed Abdi, Liban Abdullah, Adnan Ibrahim, and Hussein Hassan – have been accused of being the gunmen who carried out the attack. While their nationalities have not been disclosed, they are said to be ethnic Somalis.
Police officials in Kenya have also indicated that the four accused had sheltered the attackers in their homes in Eastleigh a Somali neighbourhood in Nairobi, and that they were in contact with the gunmen four days prior to the siege being carried out.
During the first day of the trial, the court heard testimony from security guards who saw what happened when the gunmen launched the attack in September 2013, killing at least sixty-seven people. During his testimony, guard Stephen Juma told the court that he had been directing traffic outside the upmarket shopping centre when a car pulled up and three men jumped out. According to Mr Juma, one of them immediately shot dead a shopper, adding that “I began to hear gunshots, I made a radio call for help while running to the main entrance.” Mr Juma further noted that he could not identify any of the gunmen as their heads and faces had been covered with black headscarves.
The four are the first to be charged over the attack, which was the worst in Kenya since 224 people were killed in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy. Reports have indicated that around forty witnesses are expected to give evidence at the trial, which is likely to last around a week.
Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab confirmed days after the siege at they were behind the attack, indicating that one of its suicide brigades carried out the siege. Although al-Shabaab is fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia, the militant group has on numerous occasions carried out attacks in neighboring Kenya in a bid to avenge the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia to bolster the UN-backed central government.
The regional measures that followed the spike of piracy in South East Asia in the early 2000s are widely, and rightly, hailed as a successful example of maritime security co-operation. However, piracy is now undergoing a dramatic increase again in the region, with Indonesian waters now suffering the largest number of attacks worldwide as the pirates increasingly adapt to the new security situation.
In 2003, piracy reached record highs in South East Asia, with 445 incidents reported in Indonesian waters and similarly high levels in other regional nations. Following this, the nations that border the strategically crucial Straits of Malacca (Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, with some assistance from Thailand and India) made moves to improve their naval co-operation in order to deal with the growing piracy crisis. Well publicised publicity campaigns with dramatic pictures of large warships patrolling the Straits highlighted a significantly more robust security posture, which saw a drastic reduction in rates of piracy.
This attempt to present a ‘United Front’ masks many legitimate issues between the nations – extremely disparate geographical positions, economies, military expenditure and naval strength all continue to cause friction. However the attempt at regional co-operation was broadly successful for several years, and even now with piracy once more on the rise through South East Asia, the Straits of Malacca themselves remain broadly safe for international shipping (at least compared to the past).
However, with a 440% increase in piracy in Indonesian waters between 2009 and 2012, it appears that the security response is now proving less effective than previously. This is largely because pirates have adapted to the new security situation. Instead of attempting to attack and hijack vessels in transit in the Straits of Malacca, they instead focus on boarding and robbing ships berthed in the Indonesian harbours along the Straits. From 2004 to December last year, Indonesian anchorages were placed on the U.S Coast Guard port advisory list because of their poor security, a ban only lifted following some American investment and training. It is worth noting that the US was concerned primarily with counter-terrorist performance, and many nominal improvements directed at preventing piracy and armed robberies are likely ineffective.
Similarly, pirates have also moved their bases of operations to avoid the naval forces and attack ships entering or exiting the Straits. Instead of their traditional bases actually in the Straits of Malacca themselves, many are now based to the south, using secretive parts of Jambi province for their hideaways. Others have moved east towards the South China Sea, and operate instead on the open seas far from coasts and patrols. The isolated island groups in these areas, such as the Anambas and Natuna islands, are remote and located close to the major international shipping lanes entering the Straits. Another island, Pulau Batam near Singapore, has also emerged as another favoured base of operations – as a source of cheap manufacturing for Singapore, severe economic difficulties and influxes of poor migrants have provided both the motivation and a ready labour pool, including local fisherman, for piracy targeted at ships in the Malacca straits. These coastal regions are remote and covered with mangrove swamps and shallow inlets and estuaries – perfect locations for hiding pirate vessels.
So far, it appears the nations in this region, particularly Indonesia, are failing to make the necessary adaptations to the new environment, leading to the resurgence of piracy in the region. The authorities tend to focus purely on the military and political aspects of piracy, with no attempts to deal with the root economic causes. The large warships that protect the Straits of Malacca are in general too big to track pirates back to their bases, with this task usually left to lower level local law enforcement, often equipped only with small wooden boats. This problem is particularly pronounced in Indonesia, which has the weakest navy in the region and the largest coastline, and as the world’s largest archipelagic nation has over 18’000 islands perfectly suited to hiding pirate activity. Until a new security approach is taken that accounts for the now changed environment, it appears that the trend of increasing piracy in South East Asia will continue.
There were 16 reported incidents during the month of June, 2013. This represents a notable increase compared with May, which was relatively quiet, and highlights the continuing trend of increased piracy in the region. This is over triple the number of incidents occurring in June 2012 and 2011, and is the highest rate of incidents in the month of June since 2008.
All reported incidents occurred in the South East Asian region, with none in the North East Asia or Pacific regions.
Incident Occurrences by Country
Indonesia – 12
Malaysia – 3
India – 1
3rd June, Indonesia – SPAR LIBRA boarded at Maura Jawa anchorage. Unsuccessful attempted robbery.
3rd June, Indonesia – attempted boarding of ATLANTIC CANYON at Belawan Anchorage.
8th June, Indonesia – BANDAI V boarded at Belawan Anchorage. Unsuccessful armed robbery.
9th June, Malaysia – tug PU2417 boarded 6nm off Terengganu. Robbers armed with knives and firearms stole fuel and belongings.
9th June, Malaysia – an unnamed tug 30nm east of Kerteh, Terengganu was boarded by armed pirates, who took all crew members hostage before stealing property.
10th June, Indonesia – ANNA BARBARA boarded and robbed at Taboneo Anchorage.
12th June, Indonesia – attempted robber of SENTOSA RIVER at Senipah Tanker Anchorage, Balikpapan.
13th June, Indonesia – armed robbers boarded EAGLE SAN JUAN and stole property.
13th June, Indonesia – CSK BRILLIANCE boarded at Maura Jawa anchorage. Armed pirates took crew members hostage and stole property. One crew member was injured.
15th June, Indonesia – attempted boarded of EMERALD STAR at Taboneo Anchorage.
16th June, Indonesia – attempted armed robbery of CMA CGM KAILAS at Jakarta Cargo Anchorage.
17th June, Malaysia – KING RIVER boarded 8nm west-northwest of Lutong, Sarawak. Aggressive pirates took hostage and beat most of the crew before escaping with property.
19th June, Indonesia – OCEAN GARNET boarded by armed robbers at Muara Jawa anchorage. Property stolen.
20th June, Indonesia – SENNA JUMBO boarded by armed robbers at Nipah Transit anchorage. One crew member threatened with a knife and property stolen.
27th June, Indonesia – attempted boarding of unnamed tanker at Jakarta Tanker Anchorage.
30th June, India – successful robbery of unnamed tanker at Kandla Inner Anchorage.
Between 50 – 100 criminals, including notorious jihadist terrorist Fadli Sadama, remain at large following a devastating riot and subsequent jailbreak in Indonesia on Thursday night. A huge manhunt involving the police and military is currently on-going throughout the province of North Sumatra; however there are indications many prisoners may have successfully avoided detection and escaped to other neighbouring provinces. While the direct threat from this incident to foreign visitors or shipping in Indonesia is likely still low, major disruption is to be expected in light of the authorities’ manhunt, particularly in North Sumatra province.
The riot began on Thursday evening at the maximum security Tanjung Gusta prison in Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra province and close to the busy shipping port of Belawan. The riot reportedly began after a power cut disabled water and electricity supplies to the prison on Thursday morning. The prisoners began a protest which escalated into violence throughout the day. Breaking out of their cells, the prisoners proceeded to set fire to numerous parts of the prison, steal guns and take around 15 prison officers hostage. A stand-off with police and the military ensued, while the blaze killed 2 prison staff. 3 prisoners also died in the rioting, before the Indonesian military was allowed to enter and re-establish control peacefully.
In the chaos however, over 200 prisoners reportedly made good their escape from the prison. Authorities moved quickly, establishing road blocks and beginning a huge province-wide manhunt with over 1000 troops. This led to the rapid recapturing of many prisoners; however as of writing it is believed around half of the escapees remain at large. Some were recaptured in neighbouring provinces, showing they managed to successfully circumvent the authorities within North Sumatra and suggesting others may now be at large in other provinces of Indonesia.
There is no indication currently that the riot or subsequent jailbreak was planned or facilitated from the outside. Instead, it appears that massive overcrowding is likely the primary cause – despite its maximum security status and capacity of 1050, Tanjung Gusta was holding nearly 2500 prisoners at the time of the riot, over double capacity. Prisons in Indonesia are routinely overcrowded, with estimates suggesting the penal system is currently running at least at 150% capacity and with money earmarked for improvements routinely embezzled by corrupt officials. Prison riots are common, with Indonesia having seen at least 7 major riots in the past decade, including a prior one at Tanjung Gusta in 2003.
Of particular concern is that 11 individuals convicted of terrorism offences were among the escapees. While some have been recaptured, up to 6 remain at large. This includes Fadli Sadama, a notorious jihadist terrorist. Sadama has been imprisoned since 2010, when he was arrested in Malaysia attempting to smuggle arms back into Indonesia in preparation for attacks on tourists. Sadama is an extreme hard liner and repeat offender, who was also imprisoned from 2003 – 2010 after the 2003 Marriot hotel bombing in Jakarta. Other terrorists currently on the run include some who have undergone militant training in Aceh province. Authorities currently suspect some of the men may attempt to slip into Malaysia. It is also possible they may head north for Aceh, the site of a bloody Islamist insurgency for several decades and a region that, while now broadly peaceful, continues to have some problems with militants.
Last week, on Tuesday, 11th June, a British national was kidnapped in the Indonesian province of Aceh before being released in the early hours of Thursday, 13th June. Malcolm Primrose, 61, is a senior drilling advisor for PT Medco E&P Malaka Oil Company and reportedly has 30 years of experience in Indonesia.
When on his way home after work on Tuesday, his car was stopped by four armed men on the road between the company’s drilling site and his home village. His driver, named only as Dania, was tied up while Primrose was kidnapped. No shots were fired. Following the incident, the local police authorities began a large scale manhunt with military support.
On Wednesday 12th June, the kidnappers contacted authorities demanding a £500,000 ransom from Primrose’s family. Primrose was found unharmed in the early hours of Thursday morning, having been released in a remote palm oil plantation. According to the authorities, no ransom was paid in this instance, reportedly because his family were unable to meet the demand. No individuals have been arrested, and the identity of the kidnappers remains unknown.
Aceh is a region at the northern tip of Sumatra, and Indonesia’s third wealthiest province by natural resources. From 1978 – 2005 a sustained and bloody insurgency took place in the province, led by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Aside from numerous historical and cultural grievances, such as a desire for autonomy and more conservative Islamic governance, one major issue centred on the exploitation of natural resources – mainly oil and gas. GAM’s leaders claimed that profits from natural resources were appropriated by the central Indonesian government and not reinvested fairly in Aceh itself.
Between 1989 – 1990, the Indonesian government launched a campaign to end the insurgency which led to the deaths of over 12’000 people, and was marred by numerous accusations of human rights abuses. A second Indonesian military campaign in 2003 – 2004 resulted in a decisive defeat for GAM.
This, combined with the devastation left by the 2004 tsunami, brought the 30 year conflict to an end. A peace deal in 2005 granted increased autonomy to Aceh in exchange for the separatists laying down arms. In elections since then, Aceh has consistently voted ex-GAM members into power, and enforced sharia law in the province.
While the issues that led to the insurgency have been largely resolved, there remain many individuals formerly active in the insurgent movement and a large volume of firearms in private ownership. There are also lingering economic difficulties in the province, with poverty amongst the highest in Indonesia.
Additionally, the position of some oil and gas operations remains contentious– US Company ExxonMobil was the subject of an attempted legal action in the United States based on accusations it collaborated with the Indonesian military by facilitating human rights abuses to protect its natural gas fields. Throughout Indonesia disputes between local communities, local government and resource companies are relatively commonplace, sometimes causing protests and disorder as a result. There are suggestions that the conservatism of Aceh’s populace may create increased tension with foreign companies.
Nevertheless, despite these lingering issues, last week’s incident is unusual as Aceh remains broadly peaceful with kidnapping of foreigners very rare. A French World Bank consultant was kidnapped in 2008 but released unharmed 24 hours later, while 5 Chinese workers were also kidnapped and released unharmed after 2 days in 2008. There have been no reported incidents since then.
The case took another interesting turn on Sunday, 16th June, when a source in the Indonesian National Police told the Jakarta Globe that Medco E&P had reportedly been the target of several attacks in the past weeks that it did not report to authorities. This included the shooting of company equipment and the attempted bombing of a workers barracks, neither of which caused injuries or significant damage. Nevertheless, and while reports are still vague, it suggests last week’s kidnapping of Primrose may be connected to a specific campaign against Medco instead of the result of a larger trend targeting foreign nationals in the region.
Foreign workers should be aware that the oil and gas industry has a contentious history in Aceh, and that the province as a whole remains impoverished and with a legacy of separatism and insurgency. However, while there is some cause for caution, kidnapping and other violent incidents remain rare, with currently no signs of a larger phenomenon of kidnap for ransom targeting foreigners emerging in Aceh.