Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shipping Advised to Avoid Sulu-Celebes Sea Due to Piracy and Militant Fears

Murder of Vietnamese Crewmen Sparks Concerns and Warning
Shipping News Feature
ASIA – The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) has reported a total of 36 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships for the first six months of 2017 in Asia, down 22% compared to the same period in 2016, due to the decrease in incidents at ports and anchorages in India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. However, ReCAAP is advising that all ships use extreme caution on routes through Sulu-Celebes Sea and waters off Eastern Sabah, calling on ships to re-route, over concerns of incidents involving the abduction of crew from ships while underway in the region and the recent executions of Vietnamese sailors at the hands of extremist groups.

Incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia continued to decline, with 36 reported incidents reported, of which 27 were armed robberies against ships, 2 were piracy and 7 were kidnaps for ransom. This represents the lowest total number of incidents since 2007, with the number of incidents declining 22% compared to the same period in 2016, and 41% against the first six months of 2013. Masafumi Kuroki, Executive Director of ReCAAP ISC, commented:

“While the number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia continued to decline, there is no room for complacency. ReCAAP ISC will continue our engagement with the enforcement authorities and shipping community in the region as we collectively work towards making seas in Asia safe and secure for all.”

The situation of abduction of crew in Sulu-Celebes Sea has improved, with no incidents reported in May and June 2017, but the region still remains an area of concern. A total of seven incidents, comprising three actual incidents and four attempted incidents, were reported between January and April 2017, and as of the end of June, ReCAAP cites 18 seafarers still being held in captivity out of the 59 abducted since March 2016.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry earlier this month confirmed the deaths of three Vietnamese sailors that had been held hostage by Abu Sayyaf. On July 13, Tran Viet Van, one of the crewmembers of the Giang Hai that had been taken in February, was killed reportedly during a firefight between the militants and Filipino troops. The week prior, Filipino authorities discovered the bodies of Hoang Trung Thong and Hoang Van Hai, sailors of Vietnamese cargo ship Royal 16 which was taken by the terrorist group in November 2016.

ReCAAP reiterates its advice that all ships re-route from the area, where possible, otherwise ship masters and crew are strongly urged to exercise enhanced vigilance while transiting the Sulu-Celebes Sea and report immediately to the relevant centres.