Johor Baru – Marine police in the Malaysian southern state of Johor have smashed a seven-member gang of Indonesian pirates who preyed on fishing boats and cargo vessels in Johor waters for two years.
The pirates’ reign of terror ended late on April 22 when a marine police team nabbed them just as they were stalking ships anchored about 3.5km from Kota Tinggi. Their boat, which was fitted with a 200-horsepower outboard engine, was stocked with parang, ski-masks, binoculars and communications equipment, including a satellite handphone.
The suspects – whose identification papers showed they were from Indonesia’s Riau Islands - are suspected of involvement in an April 8 robbery on a Japanese oil tanker. The gang robbed the tanker's crew of about RM30,000 worth of foreign currencies and 11 handphones.
A marine police spokesman said the gang targeted ships with a low freeboard, making it easier for them to board. "Their modus operandi is to enter Malaysian waters, make a strike and rush back to international waters," he added.
While the Johor marine police’s success offers a rare piece of good news in the perennial battle against piracy in the region, especially in the busy Malacca Strait, a commentary in the New Straits Times has offered a different take on the problem.
Writer B A Hamzah says there is actually no piracy in the Malacca Strait – only sea robberies. While such linguistic gymnastics is no comfort to the victims of the attacks, the writer says the two definitions have far-reaching implications for the littoral states in the Malacca Strait.
“ International law defines piracy as any illegal act of violence or detention, or any act of depredation committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft and directed on the high seas against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state.” He notes, however, that many of the incidents occur in the national waters of the littoral states.
Treating sea robbery as piracy “raises the issue of exclusive jurisdiction — the competence to enforce national laws”, Mr Hamzah writes.
“It also raises unnecessary alarms about navigational safety and belittles the enforcement capabilities of and efforts by, Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, to police the strait.
“Some maritime powers have been searching for a pretext to exercise jurisdiction in strategic waterways like the Strait of Malacca. Piracy will give them a perfect excuse to intervene," he adds.
* Piracy offers a pretext for unilateralism (New Straits Times, April 25)
* Pirates’ reign of terror ends (New Straits Times, April 23)