MS Risk Blog

Piracy in South East Asia

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There is no doubt, that South East Asian littoral states are sitting among the busiest maritime routes of recent decades. Half of the Earth’s population lives in the region, stretching from Japan across the busiest straits of Malacca and Singapore to the western ports of India and Pakistan, not to forget the thousands of islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines etc. The thousands of ships responsible for the shipping of various raw materials, manufactured goods, or providing living to people by fishing are concomitant to maritime piracy.

The actual number of crimes under the aegis of piracy is unknown, because all the global and regional organisations and regimes like the UN, the International Maritime Organisation or the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia’s (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) rely on incidents which have been reported to them. Therefore, many of the small-scale crimes committed mostly against fishing dhows or private vessels remain unreported. According to the annual reports of the ISC, the number of attempted and actual crimes against ships increased until 2015 in the region and totalled in 203 incidents. Mainly, there are two types of attacks depending on the position of the ship, when it is at anchor or berth and when the ship is underway. In 2016 most violent acts of piracy happened in the territorial waters of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, especially around the island of Borneo and the area of the Sulu and Celebes Seas, between the islands of the Philippines and Borneo. The littoral waters of Gujarat province in Western India, the Malacca and Singapore Straits, the southern parts of Vietnam and the Sunda-Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia are also among the affected areas. Last year, the total crimes topped at less than half of 2015, at 85 incidents. Comparing the first half of the year of 2017 with the same period of previous years shows a decreasing tendency in the number of crimes. Thanks to the efforts of regional states, the reported number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships is the lowest of the last ten years.

Littoral states continue to step up efforts in combatting incidents in the affected areas. Malaysian and Philippine maritime forces killed many militants and pirates in recent years. The Defence Ministers of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia met at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting in May 2016 and decided to finalise relevant agreements, especially the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on maritime patrol, so all maritime crimes are addressed in a cooperative manner. On 19 June 2017, the Philippine Department of National Defence (DND) announced that Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines launched a trilateral patrol agreement. The agreement addresses the piracy incidents, armed robbery against ships, kidnapping of crew at sea and other maritime transnational crimes along the shared border of these three countries. The launch of the maritime patrol also included the establishment of three Maritime Command Centres located at Bongao in the Philippines, Tawau in Malaysia and Tarakan in Indonesia.

Although number of incidents is decreasing, the ReCAAP ISC reiterates its advice to all the captains and the crews of the ships. Always be alerted and vigilant and in case of an attempt to rob or board a ship, follow procedures, report the incident they were involved in and communicate with the littoral states’ enforcement agencies to assist them the best they can.