Piracy problem in Malacca Strait likely to worsen

Updated On: Mar 29, 2005

Singapore- After a two-month hiatus, the pirates are back with avengeance in the busyMalaccaStrait, with three bold attacks in two weeks. Analysts have cited desperation in tsunami-ravaged northern Indonesian as one reason for the resurgence.

According to Reuters, the three attacks bore the trademark style of pirates who have stalked the strait for decades: Grappling hooks were hurled as the bandits clambered aboard, abducting crew at gunpoint and then vanishing in speedboats, demanding ransom.

"It's going to get worse because the money from piracy is so good,"amanaging director of aSingaporeshipping company told the news agency.

His company's ships had been ransacked by bandits before and it had alsonegotiated with pirates for the release of abducted crew.

"All they have to do is pirate three or four vessels a month. Each averages about US$100,000 for them, so they can bring about US$4 million a year. That's a lot of money and they can well afford to pay people off," said the shipper, who declined to be identified.

Until the attacks, the Malacca Strait - through which pass about a quarter of global trade and nearly all oil imports for Japan and China - had been relatively quiet since the Dec 26 Indian Ocean tsunami.

In the latest incident on March 7, the skipper and two crew members of the Japanese-registered tugboat Idaten were kidnapped and held hostage for several days before they were released on March 20.

The shipping company which owned the boat,Kondo Kaiji, is believed to have paid an undisclosed amount of ransom to the pirates.

"Clearly the tsunami effect was to stop activity but now it's resuming and it's mainly criminal elements based on the east coast ofIndonesia," said Mr Clive Williams of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at theAustralianNationalUniversity.

In an editorial,Malaysia's New Straits Times called for increased patrolling by the three littoral states in the Strait,Indonesia,MalaysiaandSingapore.

"This is clear from the lack of such incidents for two months after the Dec 26 tsunami: The massive presence of naval vessels from various nations involved in rescue work in Aceh proved a powerful disincentive. While co-operation betweenMalaysia,SingaporeandIndonesiahas increased, each nation should strive harder to eradicate corruption and improve the administration of its coastal areas. They should go after pirates on their soil and in their waters."

It said that if the three states could not effectively police theMalaccaStrait, then it could expect greater calls for outside involvement.

"The littoral states have to face the fact that if they are ineffective in policing the strait, it will only invite pressure for other nations to intervene," the paper added.

In a commentary published in The Straits Times, writer Barry Deskerhad another suggestion: The formation of a regional coordinating centre tocombat piracy in theMalaccaStrait.

"The centre could help coordinate responses by naval, coast guard and marine police capabilities operating in or traversing through the strait in the event of acts of piracy or maritime terrorism," said Mr Desker, director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

* After tsunami, fears of a piracy resurgence (The Jakarta Post, March 26).

* Widening net against piracy (New Straits Times, March 19)

* Terror at sea: States must plot new course (The Straits Times, March 4)