Piracy in South East Asia

A few years ago Somali pirates were all over the news, films and documentaries were made and then quietly the story disappeared from the headlines. As the shipping industry became more aware of the threat posed by Somali pirates the world’s navies stepped up their efforts in the prevention and capture of their seaborne enemies. As a result of these efforts Somali piracy peaked a few years ago and has now fallen away to almost nothing. But that does not mean piracy has disapperared, the huge volumes of cargo sailing through the Straits of Malacca (one third of the world’s total) and the large number of coves and inlets in neighbouring islands has attracted increasing numbers of criminals to these waters. In June of this year eight men boarded the tanker Orkim Harmony, captured the crew, renamed the vessel and sped north towards Cambodia with a plan to sell their US $ 5 million cargo of oil at a discount at a quiet port where few questions are asked. But before the pirates could reach their destination security forces spotted the vessels and gave chase before the pirates managed to escape by lifeboat.

For now the numbers involved overall are small, just 15 incidents last year around the Straits and 9 in the first half of this year, but this could be indicative of an upward trend. Asian based pirates differ in tactics from the Somalis in that they are less interested in taking hostages and more interested in stealing cargo, whether that be fuel, crude oil, chemicals or even palm oil. Some just “burgle” the ships taking computers, cash and other valuables undetected.

In another recent incident pirates boarded the vessel Ocean Energy close to Port Dickson Malaysia, once the tanker was stationery another vessel pulled up alongside it and siphoned off all the fuel oil it was carrying, before quickly disappearing, no doubt to sell their booty on the black market. Some shipping and insurance companies have accused South East Asian nations of being complacent about attacks and not devoting enough resources to preventing and tracking down the sea borne criminals. But put in perspective the number of attacks is tiny compared to the huge numbers of traffic passing through the area. Local governments have a multitude of other concerns and issues which warrant more time and money. What might goad more action is the concerns of the insurance industry, if attacks increase and firms look to push premiums up as a result, this in turn will encourage comapanies and governments to tackle the issue.


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