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Pirates of the Straits

Updated On: Jul 07, 2006

Southeast Asia has come up with a slew of initiatives to combat piracy in recent years, including the US-backed ‘Eyes in the Sky Initiative’ as well as the Japan-initiated ‘Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP)’.

With Japan providing equipment and the US mobilizing its carrier fleets to aid the littoral states of the Straits of Malacca, it is hoped that the anti-piracy situation will improve over time.  But in the meantime, the brazen attacks of pirates on commercial shipping in the Straits do nothing to upgrade the security situation in that area in order to convince the Lloyd’s of London to drop its insurance charges to make it less expensive to ply goods through the narrow strip of water. Leading Londoninsurer Lloyd's has placed the Malacca Strait on its list of dangerous waterways and a war risk area in June 2005.

On Tues 4 July 2006, "pirates in a 10-metre speedboat attempted to board the Japanese bulk carrier off Aceh in the Malacca Strait”.  It was the sixth attack so far this year. Head of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre, Mr Noel Choong urged the Indonesian government to step up patrols to prevent new attacks. The vigilant Japanese crew turned on floodlights which blinded the pirates and sprayed water from fire hoses to prevent the pirates from boarding.

Just two days before, two UN-chartered ships were attacked hours apart on Sunday. They were carrying supplies to Aceh tsunami victims under the World Food Programme. Indonesian pirates armed with guns attacked a UN ship with a 10-strong crew sailing from Belawan to Lhokseumawe on Aceh's eastern shores, stealing some items and damaging the boat's equipment. Some three hours later, another UN ship carrying a similar humanitarian mission sailing from Belawan to Calang on the west coast of Aceh was attacked. The pirates stole cash and some construction materials.

Such incidents demonstrated that the implementation of swift action to crush these pirates have much room for improvement. However, the high cost of fuel has become a crucial factor in cash-strapped Indonesia's ability to conduct frequent patrols, in turn encouraging pirates to be more adventurous. It is unclear ifIndonesia’s less than ideal financing would allow them to conduct anti-piracy exercises like last year’s Operasi Gurita ('Operation Octopus'). If no further actions are carried out, the lingering danger remains for terrorist organizations to link up with the pirate groups to blow up an oil tanker or use it as a floating bomb.

Sources:

Pirates strike UN, Japanese vessels (Today/AFP, 5 July 2006)

Japanese ship foils attack in Malacca Strait (AP, 5 July 2006)

Pirates hit vessels three days in a row (The Star, 5 July 2006)

3 pirate attacks off Aceh in 2 days spark alarm (The Straits Times, 5 July 2006)

Pirate attacks in Malacca Strait (BBC, 5 July 2006)

Japanese ship foils attack in Malacca Strait (Jakarta Post/AP, 5 July 2006)

Malacca pirates increase raids (Bangkok Post 5 July 2006)

Pirates attack Japanese bulk carrier in Malacca Strait: IMB (Channelnewsasia, 4 July 2006)

Pirates Attack 2 UN-Chartered Ships off Indonesia (Voice of America, 4 July 2006)