Scrap metal thefts in Singapore highest since 2011

Vessel traffic in Singapore Strait. Credit: AISLive IHS Markit

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combatting Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre, ReCAAP ISC, has warned of a rise of incidents of scrap metal theft onboard tug boats and barges in the Singapore Strait this year.

There has been 14 incidents involving tug boats and barges this year to date, with nine of the incidents declaring theft of scrap metal from their barges, according to a report by ReCAAP ISC.
Thieves carry out these operations by coming alongside the barges and transferring scrap metal into their smaller boats. This is a relatively simple procedure as the barges are moving at very slow speeds as they are typically loaded with huge heaps of scrap metal and are towed along the tow line.

This is the highest number of scrap metal thefts reported in the Singapore Strait since the first reported incident of this kind in 2011.

Despite the thieves not being armed and no crew members were harmed in the incidents, ReCAAP ISC said it is concerned by the growing number of thefts.

Between 2007 and August 15, 2019, 228 incidents occurred involving barges and tug boats in Asia alone. Of these 98 incidents occurred in the Singapore Strait alone. Out of the 228 incidents, 189 were robberies of the crew’s cash and personal belongings as well as other unsecured items, 25 were theft of scrap metal from barges and 14 were hijacking of tug boats for resale. The hijackings involved the crew members being thrown off the boats and abandoned in life rafts.

ReCAAP ISC is encouraging the neighbouring shoreside states to increase patrols of the Singapore Strait, as well as promote information sharing on criminal groups involved in the crimes to be able to arrest and prosecute more swiftly. ReCAAP ISC also reiterated the importance of reporting all incidents and suspicious activities to coastal bodies to avoid further attacks or thefts in the future.

The report, titled, Special Report on Incidents Involving Tug Boats and Barges in the Singapore Strait can be found on the ReCAAP website.