Singapore– The busy Malacca Straits remain one of the world’s most dangerous shipping lanes in the world.
Last year saw more kidnapping in the area than anywhere else in the world, said the London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its 2004 piracy report.
A total of 36 crew members were kidnapped for ransom, with four killed and three injured.
The IMB has also expressed concern at the increasing levels of violence in certain “hotspots”, including killings, kidnappings and the hijacking of tugs and barges in Indonesian waters, the northern Malacca Straits and offNorth Sumatra.
Apart from Aceh rebels, the IMB blames the rising violence on “crime syndicates operating from fishing boats and staging copycat kidnappings which they see as an easy way to make money”.
While all pirate activities around the Malacca Straits have ceased since the Dec 26 tsunami, the IMB does not expect this situation to be permanent.
“It is probable that once life resumes normally inNorth Sumatra, crime will return and with it, pirate attacks against ships,” the report said.
“The pirates, like the rest of the population, have lost vital equipment and some, even their lives.When the attacks resume, it is vital that the law enforcement agencies respond quickly and positively to prevent it from being seen by criminals as an easy option.”
For the pirates, the Malacca Straits offer a lucrative source of income since more than 50,000 ships, carrying more than half of the world’s oil and natural, use its lanes each year.
While the IMB report makes for sombre reading, it does offer a bit ofgood news: The number of piracy attacks worldwide dropped to 325 last year, from 445 in 2003.
InIndonesia, attacks fell from 121 in 2003 to 93 last year. The decline is partly attributed to beefed-up naval patrols inIndonesia,MalaysiaandSingapore, that started in July.
* Malacca Straits ‘still most dangerous” (The Straits Times, Feb 7)