Piracy in Malacca Straits – state of play

Updated On: Apr 20, 2007

According to a new report by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) researchers, the number of reported piracy attacks – 10 actual and two attempted – have reached the lowest in 10 years in the first quarter of this year.

The eight-page report titled, Trends in Armed Robbery and Piracy in South-east Asia also noted a sharp decrease in violence during the period – with only one reported case using firearms – and suggested a downward trend in piracy attacks, especially when the previous low was in 1998.

The latest statistic favouring the Malacca Strait’s security record and responding to enhanced anti-piracy measures by the littoral states, was a significant departure from Lloyd's Marketing Association's war-risk rating for the region two years ago.

Confirming NTU’s report was a meeting of military chiefs from the United States and Malaysia earlier this week, which noted improved security in the Strait. The Commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, also said that information-sharing with allies to keep the waterway safe had improved.

Despite promising developments, the NTU report urged greater vigilance ‘regardless of time and location,’ especially towards nightfall attacks that have taken place twice this year and possible threats by terrorists to cripple the strategic Strait that account for half the world's oil and more than a third of its commerce. The report added that 'the Indonesian ports and anchorages remained the regional hotspots for armed robbery and piracy activities.’

Elsewhere, Malaysia's deputy prime minister Najib Razak noted the possibility of joint patrols by the littoral states in future, albeit with the overcoming of ‘some sensitivities,’ such as the impingement of territorial rights via such patrols. ‘At the end of the day, the objective is to make the Straits of Malacca very, very secure and we have done that. Hopefully we can make it even more secure in the future,' Najib added.

Maritime experts such as Captain Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau, argued that joint patrols between the three states could help plug loopholes by allowing a navy vessel to pursue suspected pirates into another country's waters to prevent escape.

Building on the momentum of current security discourses surrounding the Malacca Strait, Malaysia unravelled an ambitious US$15 billion (S$22.7 billion) oil pipeline project from Kedah to Kelantan, which would provide an alternate route to the Strait for the transportation of Middle East oil to the region, as 'purely a commercial initiative'.

PM Najib elaborated that the pipeline 'can lower transportation costs and avoid some risk [pirate attacks].'

According to the Bernama news agency, tankers will offload crude oil from the Middle East in the coastal town of Yan, Kedah, for refining. The oil will then be transported through the pipeline across the north of Malaysia to Bachok on Kelantan's coast, facing the South China Sea, for distribution to countries in Asia, including China.

Should Malaysia’s proposed plan materialize however, Singapore's position as a major shipping hub and oil refining centre could be threatened. (19 April 2007)


M'sia warms to joint patrols in Malacca strait (AP/The Straits Times, 17 April 2007)

SE Asia piracy at 5-year low: report (AFP/ The Straits Times, 17 April 2007)

M'sia oil pipeline aimed at countering security threat (The Straits Times, 17 April 2007)

Piracy attacks in Malacca Strait at 10-year low: NTU report (The Straits Times, 17 April 2007)

KL's proposed oil pipeline 'will cut cost, piracy' (AP/AFP/The Straits Times, 18 April 2007)