Asia: Crew abductions concerns remain despite piracy decline

Soldiers patrol along the wharf in Basilan island, an island province of the Philippines and northernmost of the major islands of the Sulu Archipelago., during an anti-kidnap operation Credit: THERENCE KOH/AFP/Getty Images

The number of piracy and armed robbery cases in Asia is continuing to decline, but industry players have warned that threat of crew abduction in the Sulu and Celebes seas remain.

These were some of the main points raised by speakers at the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery -Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP – ISC) Piracy and Sea Robbery Conference held in Singapore on 9 April.

“In 2018, there were 76 incidents of piracy and armed robbery reported in Asia. This was a 25% decrease in the total number of incidents and a 31% decrease in actual incidents compared to 2017”, said Masafumi Kuroki, executive director of ReCAAP ISC, in his address at the conference.

But Kuroki went on to caution against complacency, and reiterated ReCAAP’s recommendation for all stakeholders to exercise vigilance, and maintain co-operation with law enforcement authorities of the littoral states, despite the downward trend in cases.

“Nonetheless, it is important that we continue to reinforce the ownership of the coastal states in addressing maritime crime, the co-operation between law enforcement agencies and the industry, and the timely reporting by ships, all of which have led to the decrease of incidents in Asia”, he added.

According to figures from ReCAAP, nine crew members who were abducted in the Sulu and Celebes seas over various past incidents are still being held in captivity by the end of February 2019. Militants linked to the separatist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which continue to remain active in the Southern Philippine region, are believed to be behind these abductions.

ReCAAP maintains its recommendation for all ships to reroute their journeys from the Sulu and Celebes seas, and in waters off eastern Sabah. However, should this not be feasible, ReCAAP urges ship masters and crew to exercise extra vigilance while transiting these areas, and report their positions frequently to the operation centres of either the Philippine authorities, or the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) of Malaysia.