Crew abduction still a threat, says ReCAAP ISC

Last month, two Indonesian crew were abducted from a fishing boat. (Credit: Malushko)

There were just two instances of crew abduction in Asian waters between January and September, but the Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) is not letting its guard down.

There was a total of 64 ship attacks in Asian waters during the first nine months of 2018, compared with 62 last year, according to data and analysis by ReCAAP ISC in its third quarter report, published on 12 October. Of these, 61 were incidents of armed robbery against ships.

Despite an increase in piracy and armed robbery, the number of incidents in the latest period is at a 10-year low, with 50 successful attacks and 14 failed attempts. The majority of these were minor, petty theft, known as Category 4 incidents. In contrast, January to September 2017 saw 54 attacks and 8 failed attempts.

Most of the 64 incidents involved ships at anchor or berth, with just 15 involving ships at sea. ReCAAP ISC highlighted the fact that all the incidents that took place in Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam occurred on ships at anchor or berth, while incidents in the straits of Malacca and Singapore and the Sulu-Celebes Seas occurred while ships were under way.

It also flagged an increase in the number of incidents in the Singapore Strait, as well as at ports and anchorages, particularly in Bangladesh’s Chittagong and Indonesia’s Samarinda, east Kalimantan.

ReCAAP ISC saw improvements on several fronts during the quarter. First, there was a decrease in incidents at ports and anchorages in the Philippines, which is a hotbed for piracy activity.

Second, there were no successful attempts to hijack ships for oil cargo theft. This was thought to have returned earlier this year, following reported attempts on 1 June and 4 August.

Finally, there were fewer instances of abduction of crew for ransom. Compared with 18 actual and attempted cases in 2016 and 7 in 2017, there were just 2 incidents in 2018.

Still, ReCAAP ISC cautioned that the threat remains following a failed kidnap attempt on 16 February and two Indonesian crew being abducted from the fishing boat Sri Dewi 1 on 11 September.

“As the threat of abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off eastern Sabah remains, ReCAAP ISC maintains its advisory issued via the ReCAAP ISC Incident Alert dated 21 November 2016 to all ships to re-route from the area,” ReCAAP ISC said.

It urged all ships to adopt piracy countermeasures to mitigate risk, maintain communications with authorities, and make timely reports.

Sixty-three crew have been abducted since March 2016. As of 30 September 2018, 48 had been released or rescued, but 7 were killed and 8 are still in captivity.