Piracy continues to be a modern-day scourge on merchant marine.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), pirate attacks worldwide jumped 14% in the first nine months of this year, with the biggest increases occurring off the poorly policed waters of Somaliaand Nigeria.
Most recently an interesting incident off the Somalia waters revolving around pirate attacks presents an unprecedented opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough.
The US Navy came to the rescue to help embattled North Korean crewmen fight off pirates off the north coast of Somali. This was an unprecedented incident given that the two countries were technically still at war and after 50 years of hostility between Pyongyang and Washington. American help came despite the fact that in 1968, North Koreans seized the US Navy spy ship the Pueblo, and, in 1976, North's troops murdered two US soldiers inside the Demilitarised Zone. The USS James E. Williams responded after the International Maritime Bureau circulated a distress signal from the North Korean ship following the pirates’ attack on the ship.
The violent battle between the pirates and the North Korean freighter broke out after the former capture the latter off Mogadishu. At least two attackers died in the clashes and five were captured after the American intervention. Three of the 22-strong crew of the North Korean ship the MV Dai Hong Dan were seriously injured but they were saved by rapid and prompt medical attention from the US naval authorities.
"As far as I know, there has been no previous case in which the US military helped North Korea," an official with the US military in Seoul said. Some believe that the incident would help to further improve ties between the world’s only superpower and one of the globe’s remaining Stalinist state. It may also motivate North Korea’s pledge to disable its bomb-making nuclear programme.
In another incident, a US Destroyer was given permission to enter Somali in hot pursuit of a hijacked Japanese chemical tanker loaded with highly flammable benzene. The guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke is chasing the Japanese 12,000 deadweight-tonne Golden Mori because of deep concern over the sensitivity of the cargo.
Piracy also remains a hot topic in Southeast Asia. According to IMB, in the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest waterways, 198 attacks on ships were reported between January and September, up from 174 in the same period last year. Indonesia remained the world’s worst hit country with 37 attacks in its territorial waters in the first nine months of this year.
Malaysia is making an effort to make the notorious Straits of Malacca safer from the threats of piracy through the deployment of an elite marine police force to patrol the waterway.
Marine police commander Senior Assistant Commandant (II) Isa Munir said no piracy cases had been reported this month since the placement of the elite force, equipped with fast boats. “We are considering the possibility of keeping the force there,” he told reporters after closing a boat-handling course at the Marine Training Centre in Tampoi. SAC Isa said even robberies and thefts of fishing nets around Malacca and Muar had reduced with the presence of the elite force. He said while four piracy cases were reported in the straits last year, compared to only two in the previous year, the figure was still low.
He said the marine police intend to create the post of investigating officer (IO) to improve enforcement and investigations. This would represent an innovation from the current system where IOs are drawn from the regular police force to investigate marine cases. Police Inspector-General Tan Sri Musa Hassan has given his approval to this plan. He also hoped the marine police will get additional officers and more speedboats, at least 250 speedboats – 50 for each marine district – to improve patrolling and combat marine crime.
US navy help for North Korea ship unprecedented: officials (Channelnewsasia, 31 October 2007)
US destroyer in hot pursuit of pirates off Somalia (Straits Times, 31 October 2007)
Piracy on the rise worldwide (Straits Times, 31 October 2007)
Safer straits with new marine police move (The Star, 31 October 2007)