Piracy woes on the rise again in Malacca Straits

Updated On: Mar 18, 2005

Kuala LumpurMalaysia,IndonesiaandSingaporehave stepped up the frequency of patrolling in the Straits of Malacca following a spate of pirate attacks, said Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. In the latest incident, armed pirates kidnapped three members of a Japanese-owned tugboat by pirates in the straits, off Perak, on March 14.

The tugboat's captain and chief engineer, both Japanese, and a third Filipino engineer,were abducted by 15 armed pirates who attacked the 323-tonne Idaten owned by Kondo Kaiji, a shipping company inFukuoka. To date, no ransom demand has been made. The hostagesare believed to be held in an island in northSumatra.

Malaysia’s marine police have not ruled out the possibility that the pirates are members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

"The pirates are fromIndonesia. They may be GAM rebels. I will not rule it out," Mr Mokhtar Othman, operations officer forMalaysia's northern region marine police, told AFP.

He said the fact that the pirates were well armed and“had something like a rocket launcher” pointed to the involvement of GAM, which had been waging a separatist revolt in Aceh since 1976.

In the past, GAM rebelshad been accused of carrying out pirate attacks and the International Maritime Bureau had warned ships to stay clear of Aceh’s coast.

But GAM has denied such allegations.

“We are not involved in actitivies outside Aceh, let alone in piracy. We are freedom fighters, not pirates,” said GAM spokesman Sofyan Daud.

In anotherincident onMarch 12, 35armed pirates boarded the Indonesian-registered Tri Samudra oil tanker and fled with cash and two hostages, the Indonesian captain and chief engineer. The hijackers are demanding a ransom of two billion rupiah from owner Humpuss Intermoda Transport.

Mr Najib, who is also the Defence Minister, said the littoral states could not stop pirate attacks completely due to the long coastline and insufficient ships.

“We are doing the best we can,” he said.

A search and rescue operation is under way to find the missing crew from the Japanese tanker.Malaysiahas five patrol boats and a helicopter combing the northern tip of the Malacca Straits.Indonesiahas deployed three warships.

Singaporehas also offered patrol vessels and a maritime patrol aircraft.Japansaid it would consider sending patrol vessels and aircraft ifMalaysiaasked for help.

* 3 taken by pirates: S’pore offers help (The Straits Times, March 16)

* Countries stepping up patrolling of Melaka Straits (Bernama, March 16)