Monday, December 30, 2019

Asian Piracy Meeting Assesses the Threat of Robbery at Sea

Rising Rate of Attacks Include Extremist Islamic Kidnappings
Shipping News Feature

SOUTH EAST ASIA – A renewed rash of piracy attacks in the Straits of Singapore has underscored the need for action as discussed at the recent two-day meeting organised by the Philippine Coast Guard and the intergovernmental piracy watchdog, Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).

Vessels passing through the Singapore Straits were warned by the authorities this week to maintain a high degree of vigilance, particularly in the hours of darkness after a spate of attacks in the past few days. These mainly involved men, armed with long knives, attacking the crew and often tying them up before stealing a variety of items, including engine spares. There were at least four attacks in the same number of days last week alone reported to the International Maritime Bureau’s live piracy reporting centre.

In the run up to Christmas, law enforcement and regulatory agencies from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam as well as members from the shipping industry and local diplomatic community met up in Manila for the abovementioned meeting. The need for information sharing took centre stage, a point reinforced in his speech by Director General Alex Paul I Monteagudo, National Intelligence Coordinating Council, representing the Guest-of-Honour, Senator Christopher Lawrence Tesoro Go of the Republic of the Philippines.

Mr Monteagudo welcomed greater cooperation among Asian countries to keep sea lanes safe and secure for the free and open passage of commercial vessels so that economies in the region can continue to develop and thrive without the threat of piracy and armed robbery against ships at sea.

In addition to an update of the latest situation of piracy and sea robbery in Asia, the meeting also took stock of the evolving situation in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters of Eastern Sabah, which has seen 30 incidents of abduction of crew (19 actual and 11 attempted) between March 2016 to November 2019, with the two most recent incidents occurring in June and September 2019.

The meeting also examined the evolving nature of piracy robbery at sea, using the Sulu Sea as a case study, where most of the incidents of the abduction of crew for ransom were claimed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an Islamic extremist group based in southern Philippines. The meeting closed with an assessment of the efforts and progress made by the Philippine Government in addressing the current dangers in the southern Philippines and charted possible ways forward.

Admiral Joel S. Garcia, Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard and Chairperson of the ReCAAP ISC Governing Council, observed:

“The maritime safety and security situation in the Sulu-Celebes Seas is dynamic and evolving. While the stakeholders have made much efforts to address the threats, more can be done, especially in examining the underlying causes driving the incidents of abduction of crew for ransom claimed by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“This meeting is hence timely as it presents an opportunity to raise the awareness and share perspectives on the emergent nexus between maritime terrorism and piracy and armed robbery against ships. This is an area I encourage ReCAAP ISC to further study, as it may potentially add a new complexion to piracy and sea robbery in the future.”

ReCAAP is the first regional government-to-government agreement to promote and enhance cooperation against piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia. To date, 20 States (14 Asian countries, 4 European countries, Australia and the USA) have become Contracting Parties to ReCAAP which saw the 12th Governing Council Meeting in 2018 announce that ReCAAP ISC has met the criteria to be a Centre of Excellence for information sharing in combating piracy and armed robbery against ships at sea. Speaking at the meeting, Mr Masafumi Kuroki, Executive Director of ReCAAP ISC, commented:

“While the overall number of incidents of piracy and sea robbery in Asia has been decreasing, with 70 incidents from January to November 2019, we cannot afford to operate in a ‘business as usual’ mode. The situation always has the potential to change, as new modus operandi emerge. ReCAAP ISC and Focal Points, the shipping industry and other stakeholders must stay vigilant and be keen to the evolving threats. This meeting, co-organised with ReCAAP Philippine Focal Point, is thus designed to assess the progress of efforts, consider further measures, and raise awareness on emerging threats to the safety and security of our seas.”

Photo: Mr Kuroki, driving home his point that the next course of actions to be taken to further reduce the risks faced by the shipping industry when operating in the Sulu Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah, needed to be clearly laid out.