ReCAAP ISC report highlights enduring shipping risks in Singapore Strait

Singapore Strait. Credit: IHS Markit

Security threats to commercial shipping transiting the Singapore Strait are continuing, with five ships attacked in November, according to a monthly report from the Singapore-based Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC).

In its report for November 2019, published on 11 December, ReCAAP ISC said it is “concerned about the continued occurrence of incidents on board ships while underway in the Singapore Strait”.

“Of the eight incidents [of piracy and armed robbery across the western Asia-Pacific region] reported in November 2019, five incidents [comprising four actual incidents and one attempted incident] occurred in the Singapore Strait,” the report noted.

Maritime security in the Singapore Strait – a key shipping artery in the region and more widely – has been an enduring focus among the international maritime community in recent years. However, the enduring risk in the region has been demonstrated by the November attacks.

ReCAAP ISC uses a metric of four categories to assess the details, severity, and implications of attacks. Category 1 attacks are the most significant and involve, for example, armed and violent hijacking of a ship, including with its cargo being stolen. Category 4 attacks are the least significant, with attackers being unarmed and usually with no crew members hurt.

The five Singapore Strait incidents included three Category 3 attacks, one Category 4 incident, and one attempted but unsuccessful attack. All three Category 3 incidents targeted bulk carriers underway, with the Category 4 incident involving a barge being towed by a tug. The attempted but unsuccessful attack targeted a chemical tanker.

According to ReCAAP ISC, Category 3 attacks usually include groups of 1–6 men, perhaps carrying bladed instruments or weapons such as bats, with ship stores and engine spares commonly targeted.

Of the five incidents, four occurred while ships were underway in the eastbound lane of the strait’s Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS), with these incidents occurring on 23, 24, and 28 (two) November. These attacks also occurred at the eastern end of the strait. The fifth incident, the attempted but unsuccessful attack on the chemical tanker, occurred on 5 November in the TSS’s westbound lane at its western end.

Throughout 2019, ReCAAP ISC’s data on reported incidents also pointed to a broader trend of increasing risk in the Singapore Strait. “There was a significant increase in the number of incidents in the Singapore Strait during January-November 2019 compared with January-November 2018,” the report said, with 23 incidents reported for this period in 2019 compared with 8 in 2018. The 23 incidents comprised 21 actual and two attempted attacks: 15 occurred along the westbound TSS lane (and all at its western end), and 8 across the eastbound lane.

In concluding its report, ReCAAP ISC says it “recommends all ships exercise enhanced vigilance when transiting the Singapore Strait and report all incidents and presence of suspicious small boats in the vicinity to the nearest coastal state immediately”. ReCAAP ISC strongly urges the littoral states to strengthen joint co-ordinated patrols, increase enforcement in their respective waters, and promote information sharing on the latest situation and on the criminal groups involved, in order to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators.