Tanjung Uban (Northern Sumatra) - The Indonesian Navy on July 12 launched a three-month operation to improve security in the piracy-prone MalaccaStrait. Some 20 warships, seven Sea Riders, four frogmen teams, three amphibious reconnaissance teams and one joint intelligence team are involved in Operation Gurita (Octopus).
"We'll work hard to make the Strait of Malacca a safe shipping lane," Navy deputy chief of staff Vice-Admiral W.R. Argawa said on July 12.
The 960-kilometer-long Strait of Malacca, bordered by Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, is used by ships carrying a third of world trade and half its oil supplies.
The three countries policing the strait have launched coordinated naval patrols since last year in a bid to better secure it against piracy and potential militant attacks, but attacks on ships are still on the rise.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has hit out a report classifying the Malacca Strait as a high-risk area for war and terrorism.
Transport Minister Chan Kong Choy called the report by the influential London underwriters, the Joint War Committee of Lloyd's Market Association, overdramatic and an overreaction.
The report lumped Malacca Strait with coastal areas around Iraq, Lebanon and Nigeria as high-risk areas for war and terror attacks. The classification is expected to result in high insurance costs for shipowners.
Mr Chan noted that every year, more than 100,000 vessels weighing 300 tonnes or more pass through the Strait. He said the highest annual figure on piracy in the sealane was 37 cases, in 2000.
"If we divide the number of vessels which use the Strait of Malacca every year with the number of piracy cases, the figure is less than 0.01%," he told reporters.
Mr Chan said: "We have to be rational and put things in perspective. We have zero-tolerance for pirates. The number of piracy cases in the strait had been over-hyped, causing unnecessary alarm to shippers."
Both Malaysia and Indonesia have long rejected calls to get foreign help to patrol the Malacca Strait, citing territorial integrity.
In the words of Vice-Admiral Argawa: "The involvement of foreign troops will make us look weak. We don't want that."
* Navy launches operation to secure Malacca Strait (The Jakarta Post, July 14)
* KL slams reports calling Malacca Strait 'high risk' (The Straits Times, July 13)
* Malacca Strait one of the safest, says Chan (The Star, July 12)