23 April- Armed pirates have raided an oil tanker in the Malacca Strait off the coast of Malaysia and took three crew members with them. Eight Indonesian pirates in a fishing vessel boarded the Naniwa Maru No 1 at 0100 local time on Tuesday off the coast of west Malaysia. The pirates pumped out nearly 3 million litres of diesel carried by the tanker into two waiting vessels and made off with three Indonesian crew members, including the captain, his first officer, and the chief engineer.
The Naniwa Maru No 1 was hijacked in position 02° 59’N, 100° 54’E, about 16nm off western Malaysia near the town of Port Klang. The ship was en route to Myanmar. The boarding party grouped the 18 crew members in a room and robbed them of mobile phones and cash, while two other ships pulled alongside and drained the tanker for about eight hours.
The Malacca Strait is a route for nearly one fourth of the world’s maritime oil trade. The incident has fuelled fears that piracy could be on the rise in the area, and cause an increase in ship insurance premiums.
Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s Malaysia-based Piracy Reporting Centre, said, “It’s the first time this has happened so far north in the Malacca Strait, and the first time they have kidnapped the crew. It’s not an area where we have seen the modus operandi of ships hijacked for their cargo.”
Malaysian authorities have announced they are now investigating whether the missing captain and two senior crew members were involved in the piracy plot. The captain, the chief engineer and first officer, identified as Indonesian nationals, left the ship with their personal belongings and the ship’s manifest. No ransom demand has been made.
Abdul Rahim Abdullah, deputy commander of Malaysia’s marine police said the incident was more sophisticated than a typical pirate attack. “I have discounted kidnapping. Our focus now will be on the involvement of the three crew who were taken away by the perpetrators.”
Abdul-Rahim added that detailed technical knowledge of the ship and its operations would be required to conduct this operation. The tanker and the ships to which it was off-loading had to be kept at a constant speed and on the same course while the diesel was being pumped out.
The Naniwa Maru No 1 is owned by Altra Propserous Ltd. of Saint Kitts and Nevis and is under the management of Canter Singapore Ltd., a Singapore-based company. It is docked in Malaysian waters pending further investigation.
The Strait of Malacca between Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia is one of the world’s busiest waterways and has historically been plagued by piracy, but attacks and armed robbery have declined in recent years. However, a risk of armed robbery remains present in ports and anchorages regionally. Vessels are urged to review their anti-piracy plans to mitigate the risk of attacks in the eastern extent of the Malacca straits. Risk of violence directed at crew members can be high.
In South East Asia, the vast majority of piracy incidents, and commensurately the level of law enforcement response and international attention, currently occur around the Straits of Malacca, in the numerous islands of the Indonesian archipelago and the South China Sea. However, Bangladesh has seen a continuing, and significant, level of piracy as well, though the most serious incidents are primarily targeted against local fishermen and similar. This has included two extremely serious incidents within the past month. Of particular concern is the pirate’s methodology – kidnap for ransom and a high degree of violence is extremely common.
Incidents against foreign vessels in Bangladesh take much the same form as in the rest of South East Asia. This involves opportunistic armed robbery against ships, almost always berthed in the Chittagong anchorage. Robbers, sometimes armed, board ships and attempt to steal stores, cargo and valuables. They commonly flee when confronted by crewmembers. The overall rate of piracy against foreign vessels however remains relatively low, with a small number of incidents each month, particularly when compared with Indonesia, by far the most afflicted country in the region. Rates have remained relatively stable and even seen a slight decrease in the past few years. A high degree of security awareness on behalf of law enforcement and shipping is widely credited with helping keep the situation under control.
It is attacks against local fishermen and trawlers in the Bay of Bengal that are a potentially a much more concerning phenomenon. There are numerous active pirate gangs that operate in Bangladeshi waters, particularly around the Sundarbans mangrove forest which was home to at least ten separate pirate gangs late last year. Other regions throughout the country, including along rivers far from the coast, are also plagued by pirate activity.
As opposed to the opportunistic ‘smash-and-grab’ robberies that target foreign vessels in port, piracy targeting local fishermen tends to involve kidnap for ransom as standard. The most common period for attacks is between April and August, the fishing season. The scale of this activity is also dramatic. In addition to regular demands for protection money, often from numerous different gangs, attacks are commonplace. According to the local District Fishing Trawlers Owners Association (DFTOA), between January 2011 and November 2012 over 1000 fishing trawlers were attacked, with thousands of fishermen taken hostage for various periods. This reportedly led to ransom payments totally $1.28 million. In August 2012, over 60 fishermen were taken hostage in a single incident, while the first 3 months of this year reportedly saw 90 attacks in one coastal region alone. Last month, (August, 2013) in two separate incidents over 30 fishermen were taken hostage. Attacks of this scale are standard, and occur monthly.
The law enforcement response to these activities is of varying effectiveness. Last year, a large co-ordinated operation between the Coast Guard and Navy led to the release of nearly 40 hostages, while police operations in the past weeks in response to recent incidents saw several pirates killed in shootouts and secured the release of two-thirds of the hostages. However, the long term effectiveness of this law enforcement activity remains doubtful – many locals report that the pirates simply remain dormant and re-emerge after the operations. Alternatively, they flee across the border into India, where a lack of regional co-operation makes it difficult to apprehend them. The Bangladeshi navy and coast guard are weak – the coast guard has only 11 boats, most nearly 3 decades old and several unusable during the monsoon season. The effect on the economy can be huge – with coastal fishing contributing 30% of the nation’s total catch, during 2012-2013 this had dropped from 108’000 metric tons to 39’000.
Particularly concerning is the high level of violence that occurs in these incidents. Pirates are usually armed, and beatings of captive fishermen are a common occurrence. Murder of hostages is also frequent, with many killed every year either during or after attacks. In a single incident in April of this year, 31 fishermen were tied up and tossed overboard to drown after being robbed by pirates.
While currently this activity does not commonly target international vessels, the trend is particularly concerning. With growing rates of low-level, violent hostage taking and piracy throughout the Bay of Bengal, combined with a lower level of international attention and a weaker law enforcement presence than in other regions of South East Asia, the phenomenon has the potential to evolve into one of substantially greater threat. Some analysts believe Bangladeshi pirates will become a threat to global shipping within the next two years. While currently the threat to international vessels does still remain relatively low, a high level of security awareness should be maintained by all vessels in the Bay of Bengal.
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.
Between 0400 – 0500 local time yesterday (10th June, 2013), unknown individuals successfully boarded a bulk carrier waiting for loading in Taboneo Anchorage, Indonesia. While on board, they remained undetected and succeeded in stealing stores from the ship and escaping.
This is the fourth similar occurrence in a little over a week throughout Indonesia, with two incidents taking place at Belawan anchorage on the 3rd and 8th of June and one at Muara Jawa anchorage also on the 3rd. While yesterday’s robbery was successful, the other three in the past week were foiled by the alertness of the ship’s duty crew.
These incidents demonstrate some common characteristics. The robbers used small boats to approach the ships in harbour, and then used either the anchor chain or ropes to board the vessel, with the apparent aim in all incidents of gaining access to the ship’s stores. Reports suggest that the individuals were usually also armed with knives or machetes, though in all of these incidents they fled when confronted by alert crew. While the authorities were notified, as of writing no individuals have been arrested in connection with these incidents.
Poor security at Indonesian ports has remained a recurring cause for concern in recent years. From 2004 onwards many Indonesian ports were placed on the U.S Coast Guard’s Port Security Advisory list as a result of failures in security practices, a ban only lifted in December last year following some American investment and training. However, despite these nominal improvements it is worth noting that the US Coast Guard’s primary concern was with poor counter-terrorist performance, not with piracy or armed robbery prevention.
In fact, reporting suggests there is a growing problem with security in Indonesian anchorages. The International Maritime Bureau strongly criticised Indonesia’s performance at the end of last year after a reported 81 occurrences of robbery – the highest following year on year increases since 2009. So far in 2013, reporting from numerous sources suggests the trend will continue to increase this year as well. Indeed, due to the problem of significant underreporting, the actual number of incidents is almost certainly much higher that officially recorded.
The reduction in piracy in South East Asia, particularly the Straits of Malacca, following extreme highs in 2003 is touted as a successful example of regional cooperation. However evidence shows that the problem of piracy throughout the region is now on the rise again and that many gains may be on the verge of reversal. In particular, the Indonesian National Security Sea Coordination Board has reportedly dismissed the IMB criticism of its performance against armed robbery in ports and argued the incidents are not a serious concern despite the dramatic increase in incidents.
Opportunistic armed robbery targeting vessels in Indonesian anchorages is now a problem that is steadily on the increase. Small groups of robbers seek to steal stores or cargo and are normally prevented by the actions of alert crew instead of port security authorities. These individuals are often armed, typically with knives and machetes but also reportedly with firearms in some past incidents. While they normally flee when confronted, some past incidents have involved hostage taking and violence.
Belawan port in particular is prone to these incidents, accounting for over an eighth of the total in 2012 and a similar level so far this year. Nevertheless, vessels in all anchorages throughout Indonesia should remain aware of the high levels of armed robbery against anchored ships and the need for vigilant security.
Asia – Pacific Summary
Incidents Occurring in April, 2013
There were 18 reported incidents in the Asia- Pacific region in the month of April, 2013. All of these occurred in the South East Asian region, with no incidents in North East Asia or the Pacific reported.
The most notable incidents appear to be the boarding of HUB 21 on the 24th of April, which involved violence directed at crewmembers, and the sighting of the ENG TOU 266 on the 22nd April, a stolen barge that is yet to have been recovered.
Most incidents involved armed robbery targeting ships anchored in ports throughout the SE Asian region, particularly in Indonesia.
Incident Occurrences by Country
30th April, Indonesia – KOH-I-NOOR boarded at Belawan port, robbed during customs operations.
29th April, Indonesia – CREST 2821 boarded 3.2 NM northwest of Pulau Batam, robbed.
27th April, Indonesia – FAIRCHAM MAVERICK boarded at Belawan port, robbed.
24th April, Indonesia – NADIYA MELISENDE boarded 16 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island, robbed.
24th April, Indonesia – HUB 21 boarded 53 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island. 15 pirates in 3 speedboats boarded vessel armed with knives and guns, took nine crew members hostage and assaulted some, before stealing cash and properties.
22nd April, Malaysia – ENG TOU 266 observed off Tanjung Ayam. This stolen barge was being towed by an unidentified tug, and has yet to be recovered.
23rd April, Indonesia – AD PHEONIX boarded 15 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island. Armed pirates boarded and robbed vessel.
19th April, Indonesia – SINGAPORE RIVER boarded at Dumai Anchorage. Armed robbers tied up crewmember at knifepoint, and escaped with stolen property.
17th April, Vietnam – IVS MAGPIE boarded at Cam Pha anchorage, attempted robbery.
13th April, Indonesia – DENSA JAGUAR boarded at Surabaya Port, attempted armed robbery.
9th April, Vietnam – WESTGATE boarded at Ho Chi Min Port, robbed.
6th April, Indonesia – MAERSK BERING boarded at Belawan port, robbed. Robbers later contacted shipping agent offering to sell back stolen items.
5th April, India – NEW CENTURY attempted boarding at Visakhapatnam Anchorage.
4th April, Indonesia – GARDEN CITY RIVER boarded at Dumai Anchorage, robbed.
3rd April, Indonesia – IVER EXACT attempted boarding at Dumai Anchorage.
3rd April, Indonesia – SHER E PUNJAB boarded at Adang Bay Anchorage, armed robbers took crewmembers hostage and stole stores.
2nd April, Vietnam – WEHR BLANKESE boarded at Ho Chi Min port, robbed.
1st April, Bangladesh – CRANE boarded at Chittagong anchorage, armed robbers fled before stealing anything.
1st April, Indian Ocean – CONDOR observed suspicious activity in form of a group of boats, sent crew to citadel and took evasive action. This incident is not included in above figures.