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Piracy: Focus on South East Asia

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It has been an interesting few months from a global piracy perspective – the same problems abound in the same places, but there are calls for a standardised approach to reporting attacks which is perhaps even more important as data appears to be getting skewed.

Latest Industry Reports

From 1 January 2015 to 30 September 2015, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded 190 piracy incidents, with the majority focused upon lowlevel occurrences in Southeast Asia. According to the data, 154 ships were boarded, 21 attempted attacks took place and 15 vessels were hijacked. The IMB reports that 226 crew members were taken hostage, 14 assaulted, 13 injured, 10 kidnapped and one killed.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (ReCAAP) also released its latest update on maritime piracy recently. They recorded 161 incidents of piracy and armed robbery reported there in the first nine months of 2015, which represents a 25 percent increase in the total incidents compared to 2014.

According to a statement, the agencies believes that “armed robbery and maritime crime continues to surge in Asia”. Of the 161 reported incidents, ReCAAP classifies 150 as armed robbery and the remaining 11 as piracy. Crewmembers were unharmed in 83 percent of incidents. ReCAAP defines 92 of them as category four (CAT 4) incidents, which involve one to three perpetrators who were not reported to be armed and escaped empty handed upon being sighted. The majority of the CAT 4 incidents involved ships in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore Straits (SOMS).

ReCAAP also states that CAT 1 incidents, which involve nine or more armed pirates that successfully hijack a vessel or steal cargoes, continues to be a pressing issue. There have been 11 CAT 1 this year all of which involved the hijacking of oil tankers.

SAMI

Common Patterns 

Both ReCAAP and the IMB found common patterns, with pirates typically striking at night to use the cover of darkness. It is also common for pirates to board more than one vessel per-day especially if they are unsuccessful on another ship.

There was also a strong feeling that the majority of incidents related to illegal oil bunkering. With vessels arranging illicit ship-to-ship (STS) transfers without paying the proper fees and avoid the designated areas. There have been claims that Singapore-flagged and owned vessels have been bunkering with their AIS shut off to avoid identification.

While there are some subtle differences in the reports from the two agencies, we can see a common upward trend. Backing up the main thrust of the figures, one intelligence provider reported that in the first nine months of 2015 they saw incidents reported across Southeast Asia rise by 38% when compared to the same period in 2014.

The same source stated its fears that pirates were acting with “apparent impunity” in the region. Something which is perhaps even more worrying as historically the final quarter of the year usually contains the highest levels of attacks, boardings and robberies.

Generating a Response

There have been clear warnings that vessels should take all necessary measures to protect themselves, and should avoid complacency. While vessels are asked to respond appropriately, there is a growing emphasis on littoral States to act. Naturally different nations have diverse ways of dealing with piracy and even the perceptions of piracy problems. For the Malaysians they have decided to act proactively on security. While in Indonesia the government is concerned that the vast majority of attacks are actually fraudulent.

For its side, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) is set to deploy commandos from MMEA’s Special Task and Rescue (Star) onboard government-linked companies’ cargo vessels in Malaysian waters. The deployment of troops will be made based on threat assessment analysis, and the teams will consist of at least four armed commandos.

Reports of Fraud

While across in Indonesia there were similar levels of concern about the level of piracy, but focused on what they considered to be the excessive levels of faked attacks.

According to the Indonesian Navy, they are frequently confronted with bogus piracy reports in the Malacca Strait. The commander of the Navy’s Western Fleet, Rear Admiral Achmad Taufiqoerrochman stated that as many as 90 percent of piracy cases in the area were filed with “ulterior motives”, mostly related to insurance claims and competition.

That such an astonishing percentage of attacks could be fraudulent or fabricated is something of great concern. The Admiral went on to state the belief the reports are part of a plot to, “make the Malacca Strait the most dangerous strait in the world”. Just as reports of attacks are hard to come by, accessing data about faked attacks is even harder – so there is a degree of scepticism in some quarters as to the 90% figure.

Standardised Reporting

What this does highlight, however, is the need for a more standardised approach to reporting and data analysis. In response to long standing calls for a unified approach, shipowners organisation the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) has announced it is set to unveil a new reporting code designed to eliminate inconsistencies that currently produce significant differences in global statistics for piracy and hijackings.

The criteria for recording incidents ranging from hijackings to attempted thefts currently varies for several of the organisations that report and collate statistics portraying the state of the problem worldwide.

The variation is particularly acute in South East Asia where recent publication of maritime crime figures has led to organisations producing conspicuously different views on the true scale of the problem.

New Guidelines

BIMCO is working on a set of guidelines which will aim to standardise the categories of piracy and armed robbery at sea. ‘Once completed we will be asking all piracy reporting centres and ships to utilise the same category system which will simplify all future reports. By doing this it is hoped a more accurate picture of piracy events will be captured,’ explained Philip Tinsley, BIMCO’s security manager.

‘It is hoped that the document will be released by the end of 2015, once it has received industry approval.’ The different criteria governing the reporting of maritime crime incidents has made the true picture and trends in SE Asia difficult to assess, and it is hoped that by gathering universally accepted and recognised data then the analysis will produce a more reflective picture of the state of play with regards to piracy.

Pirate Networks

Another important report to emerge recently was on the make-up of the piracy network in SE Asia. According to analysis by another intelligence provider there are 18 pirate networks accounted for and 65 upper-tier players have been identified.

The report author states that “upper-tier players” consist of fixers (middlemen), boarding team leaders, recruiters, forgers, so-called ‘big bosses’, and buyers. Boarding team ‘foot soldiers’ as well as the insiders that supply information are not included in this list as it would triple if not quadruple it.

Additionally, it is believed that ten phantom tankers have been identified within the region that are used for hijacking operations as well as three pirate mother ships, five suspected phantom ships and two go-fast boats.

Knowing more about the pirates gangs should hopefully make a difference in countering them.

 Article published in the bridge issue 10 written by SAMI (The Security Association for the Maritime Industry)


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