ReCAAP ISC has issued its piracy and maritime crime report for July 2014 and notes that there were 14 reported incidents of maritime crime and piracy during that month, as opposed to 21 reported in June.
The report states that close to 50% of the month’s incidents were petty theft, but that there were three significant (category one) incidents in July; these included two hijackings and one incident which it’s believed would have become a hijacking were it not for the timely presence of a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) patrol boat.
As has been noted on the blog previously, incidents of hijacking for oil cargo theft have been an issue in the region this year, with at least nine reported attacks on tankers so far in 2014. As many will know, piracy in S.E. Asia follows the Nigerian model, where tankers are hijacked and then rendezvous with smaller tankers and the cargo siphoned. Somali pirates, meanwhile, hijack ships to use them and their crews as collateral in ransom negotiations.
On July 4th, at around 0430 LT, Moresby 9, a Honduras-flagged tanker, was underway off Pulau Anambas when an unmarked vessel came alongside and crew heard a gunshot. Nine pirates armed with machetes and pistols boarded the Moresby 9, rounded up the crew and then locked them in the engine control room. The Chief Officer was kept on the bridge to steer the ship. The Moresby 9 was then forced to anchor around 39.4nm off Pulau Anambas and an orange motor tanker estimated to be around 3000 GT came alongside and siphoning operations began.
Some Moresby 9 crew managed to escape via the ship’s funnel and untied their colleagues. It was later discovered that the pirates had managed to steal around 2,118 metric tons of oil.
On July 16th, at approximately 0551 LT, the owners of the MT Oriental Glory received a security alert from the ship and tried to communicate with her without success. The incident was reported to the authorities and the Royal Malaysian Navy and Indonesian Navy both responded and sent assets to the ship’s last known position. By the time they arrived, the pirates had fled the ship. Further investigations showed that 25 pirates had boarded the MT Oriental Glory armed with pistols and machetes around 44.5nm NE of Pulau Bintan, while she was anchored. They siphoned around 1,600 metric tonnes of marine fuel oil from her, stole crew cash and personal belongings and damaged ship’s equipment including the main engine, steering control, radar navigation and comms equipment.
The final serious incident reported, and the one believed to be a failed hijack attempt, concerned the MT Ji Xiang. She was anchored around 2.78nm SW of Pulau Lima, Malaysia when 10 pirates boarded her armed with guns and knives on July 25th at approximately 2030 LT. During the incident, an Indonesian crew member was reportedly shot in the neck. The pirates fled the ship, leaving behind two guns and a machete when an MMEA patrol boat arrived on the scene. The MMEA vessel then chased the pirates who fled toward Pulau Lima.
Given previous incidents, it’s likely that had the MMEA ship not been on the scene, the Ji Xiang would have been hijacked for its cargo.
While it’s good to see fewer incidents in the region in July, the more serious nature of several of them continues to be a cause of concern for shipping companies as well as regional authorities. Obviously, none of the vessels in these incidents had embarked security teams in place, as regional and territorial laws make it extremely difficult for such teams to operate.
As reports of hijackings increased in the region, so many Western PMSCs began to look to Asia as a potential new market for their services. Unfortunately for them, laws in the region make placing armed teams on board tankers virtually impossible. Equally, shipping companies in the region have never felt the need to explore private security as an option. When piracy was at its height in the Malacca and Singapore Straits, regional navies worked well together to suppress it. Many sources believe that the current rise in attacks is the work of a couple of well informed criminal gangs, using intelligence on ship cargoes and routes in order to launch their attacks.
On August 8th, Xinhau reported that the Indonesian, Singaporean and Malaysian authorities had all agreed to intensify patrols in the Malacca Strait in order to combat the increase in piracy and maritime crime in the region. The paper said: “International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said that escalation of sea piracy activities in one of the world’s busiest waters has entered an alarming situation with some oil and gas tankers reportedly hijacked last month.”
If history repeats itself, then Western PMSCs will not be needed in the region as a result.