Jakarta - It may still be too early to pop the champagne but the various anti-piracy measures taken by the three littoral states in the Malacca Strait appear to have had some impact. Apart from two attempted assaults, there were no piracy attacks in the Strait of Malacca and Malaysia in the third quarter of this year. Indonesiaalso recorded the lowest number of pirate attacks in the first nine months of this year, said the Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in a report.
According to the international watchdog agency, there were 205 piracy attacks around the world from January to September, with 61 of them occurring in Indonesian waters. However, the figure for Indonesia is the lowest since 1999.
Mr Daniel Tan, secretary-general of the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) said the latest trend in the busy waterway showed that Indonesia, Malaysia andSingapore had been effective in dealing with piracy in the area.
The anti-piracy measures the littoral states have adopted include patrols in the strait, with the latest being an air surveillance known as the "Eyes in the Sky" initiative. In July, the Indonesian government also launched a full-time maritime operation, codenamed Gurita 2005.
However, some analysts wonder whether cash-strapped Indonesia can sustain the operation.
"We do not know how long Indonesia can keep up with the patrols as boats and aircraft must be deployed," said Mr Noel Choong, head of the London-based piracy centre, Lloyd's Joint War Committee (JWC).
"Our concern is that once the patrols are stopped, the pirates will be back at full scale."
An Indonesian Navy spokesman cautioned that it would take one or two years to really see the result of the coordinated patrols.
"Of course, we cannot expect to have zero piracy because the size of the area to cover is just too big, and there are a lot of islands for pirates to set up bases," said First Admiral Abdul Malik Yusuf.
The IMB's latest report has prompted shippers in the region to renew calls to remove the Malacca Strait from the damaging war-risk category.
In June, the JWC – to the dismay of shippers and governments in Asia – had included the Malacca Strait in the war-risk category equivalent to that of Somaliaand Iraq. The war-risk listing results in an increase of transportation costs as shippers need to pay more for insurance cover.
Shippers in the three littoral states have urged the JCW to remove the strait from its list of war-risk zone. Their governments described the categorisation as something that was made without consulting or taking into account the existing efforts of the littoral states in dealing with the problems. The JWC is due to meet later this year to assess its classified area.
*Pirate attacks in Malacca Strait at six-year low (The Straits Times, Nov 9)