Asian sea robberies reach four-year high

Robbery attacks in the Singapore Strait. Credit: ReCAAP ISC

Sea robberies and piracy reached a near four-year high in Asia in the first five months of 2020, with 49 incidents reported, including 11 incidents in May.

Piracy reporting centre ReCAAP ISC said on 10 June that of the 11 incidents in May, one was piracy and the others were sea robberies.

In the sole piracy incident, Torm Lotte, a 49,999-dwt products tanker operated by Danish product tanker specialist TORM, was anchored in the South China Sea, about 61 km northeast of the Indonesian island of Pulau Bintan. At about 3:50 am local time on 4 May, six perpetrators in a long wooden boat approached the tanker.

Four of the perpetrators boarded the ship from the stern, using rope hook. The other two perpetrators remained in the boat. The perpetrators wore T-shirts and shorts; and one of them carried a 20 cm-long knife. The perpetrators stole a UHF radio from an able seaman before they escaped. The master informed the shipping company’s security department and the local agent about the incident. The master also alerted ships in the vicinity on VHF and conducted a search on board the ship. Four padlocks were broken (steering gear room, rope locker, oxygen/acetylene, and deck workshop), but nothing was missing from the rooms.

Another of TORM’s tankers was nearly robbed in the same month. On 18 May, at about 2:25 am local time, Torm Venture was anchored in Merak, Indonesia, when two perpetrators armed with knives boarded the tanker using a ladder from a small craft. They entered the engine room via the steering gear room entrance. The perpetrators later escaped empty handed. The crew was not injured. The master reported the incident to the coastal authority.

Among the sea robberies, one was classified under Category 2, which involves 4–9 perpetrators armed with weapons, and minor injury to crew. On 9 May, at about 11:45 pm local time, Vega Aquarius, a Supramax bulk carrier, was en route from Singapore to China when five perpetrators armed with knives were sighted at the stern deck of the ship. The perpetrators confronted an able seaman and robbed his cellular phone. The seaman sustained a minor head injury, escaped, and alerted the master at the wheelhouse. The alarm was raised and the crew mustered at the wheelhouse. A search on board the ship was conducted and two sets of breathing apparatus were reported stolen.

A 16,626-dwt tanker Ocean Leader was anchored at Tanjung Uban Anchorage, Indonesia, on 17 May when three perpetrators armed with knives boarded the ship. The alarm was raised and the crew mustered. Upon realising that the crew had been alerted, the perpetrators left the ship. The crew later found a small knife on the deck of the ship that was left behind by the perpetrators. The crew was safe and nothing was stolen.

The Indonesian Navy managed to arrest four men in different locations in Pulau Batam, Indonesia, on 22 May and they confessed to the robberies on Ocean Leader and other ships in the waters off Batu Ampar, Pulau Batam.

ReCAAP ISC said that the situation in the Singapore Strait continues to be a concern with the occurrence of 15 incidents from January to May.

“The ReCAAP ISC recommends all ships to enhance preventive measures, including maximum alertness of lookouts when transiting the Singapore Strait and report all incidents and presence of suspicious small boats in the vicinity to the nearest coastal state immediately,” said the centre in a statement on its website.