Piracy, armed robbery in Asian waters up significantly in 2020

Pirates getting ready for attack. Credit: Eric-Paul-Pierre PASQUIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The number of incidents of piracy and sea robbery in Asia has risen significantly in 2020, surpassing the total attacks recorded in 2019.

According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), there were 72 incidents in 2019. Two of the attacks were category-1 (incidents with a large number of armed perpetrators, with violence to crew); 6 were category-2 (armed attacks where crew are threatened or items are stolen); 14 were category-3 (fewer perpetrators armed with less dangerous weapons and crew faced with verbal threats); and 50 were category-4 (perpetrators are unarmed and crew are not harmed).

However, on 30 September 2020 there were a total of 73 incidents, which exceeded last year’s record. The latest incident occurred in the South China Sea, near Indonesia, on a tanker where the pirates stole two spare starting motors from the emergency generator along with spanners and screwdrivers.

During the last nine months, there has been one category-1 incident, three category-2 incidents, 15 category-3 incidents, and 54 category-4 incidents. These have raised concern among the crews and managers.

“We’ve seen an increase of piracy and sea robbery incidents in Asia during January to July this year with 58 incidents. This is an increase of more than 50% compared with the same period of last year [37 incidents],” executive director of ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre, Masafumi Kuroki, said in a virtual workshop on 26 August.

“Regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, the participants of the workshop confirmed their continued efforts for the enhancement of maritime transport safety in Asia, so that vessels can transit unimpeded as they deliver vital supplies to the region and beyond,” added Kuroki.

On 6 October, the Bangladesh Coast Guard arrested three smugglers for stealing fuel oil from foreign vessels anchored in Mongla seaport, Bangladesh. They were held with 1,550 litres of diesel, which they mainly collected with the aid of the ship’s crew. Earlier on 13 August, police also arrested four thieves with 80 kg of mooring ropes.

ReCAAP issued a special advisory on 25 September, as incidents at anchorages and ports in the Philippines have risen significantly.

Between January and September 2020, about 13 incidents were reported in the Philippines, almost double the seven incidents that took place in 2019.

ReCAAP asked the shipping industry to adopt seven types of measures when vessels are in anchor in Manila and Batangas anchorages. Crew are advised to enhance vigilance and maintain strict lookout, keep the ship’s surroundings well lit and flood lights on, be aware of small boats approaching close to the ship, and avoid any boats coming near the ship as much as possible.