Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Pirate Attacks Continue Worldwide Despite Efforts to Control Them  

Ships at Sea or Anchorage Will Always Prove a Target for Criminals

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Shipping News Feature ASIA – AFRICA – Although the rash of serious pirate attacks off the Somalian coast which we reported on almost a daily basis in the years leading up to 2017 have since diminished, that does not mean the seas of the world are now always a safe place to ply one's trade. It was a concentrated, internationally coordinated policy of increased naval surveillance which managed to largely control the hijacking of container ships and tankers in the Indian Ocean, but elsewhere every day brings the risk of assault on the innocent.

The Information Fusion Centre (IFC) is a division of the Indian Navy and its semi-annual report for South East Asia shows the state of play in the region. What should be made clear here is that the vast bulk of incidents worldwide are not truly ‘piracy’. To qualify for that title the vessel being assaulted must be at sea, therefore only one true pirate attack has taken place recently according to the IFC, that of the South Korean flagged bulk carrier CK Bluebell on July 22 near the Singapore Strait which passes Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The bulk of other reported attacks are basically robberies and the IFC report highlights three particularly dangerous areas which it identifies as regions to be extra cautious in.

  • The Straits of Singapore and its approaches. This region (the CK Bluebell was seized near the Anambas Islands, an archipelago of Indonesia) has witnessed a variety of robberies on vessels either travelling at slow speed or anchored, with gangs armed with various weapons from iron bars to knives and, sometimes, guns. These robbers usually flee if disturbed and normally make their escape.
  • The Indonesian areas of Batam with neighbouring islands overlooking the Singapore Strait, but also in Dumai and Belawan, overlooking the Straits of Malacca are usually both the source of the criminals and the main attack areas.
  • The area around the Anambas archipelago. Although comparatively few the attacks generally mean an increased level of violence. In the 22 July case, two of the twenty two crew were injured in an assault using guns and knives which lasted half an hour and saw $13,000 in cash, plus everything from mobile phones to the crew’s shoes, taken.
  • The Sulu Sea poses possibly a more sinister threat with the criminal gangs including terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, an unsavoury outfit that mirrors the typical activities of al-Shabaab, in Somalia. Smaller vessels and slow larger vessels with little freeboard are often seized for ransom. Increased naval activity by the three neighbouring states has cut attacks to three serious incidents in the past 18 months.
Meanwhile the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) live piracy report has the usual miserable litany of recent attacks, mostly on anchored vessels moored in or around Kenyan and Nigerian waters. Although some of these would be considered as comparatively minor crimes, all have the potential for violence with many reports of injuries to crew members.

The conclusion is then that, despite maritime crime having reduced from the previous highs, this is certainly no time for any ship’s crew to relax, particularly in those regions where targeted and opportunist attacks are more likely to occur.

Photo: Described by Yachting Monthly as ‘the world’s last untouched cruising ground’ the idyllic waters off the Anambas archipelago can pose the threat of hijacking to private and merchant vessels alike.

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