Threefold rise in Asian sea robberies

Vessel traffic in the Singapore Strait. Credit: AISLive IHS Markit

Sea robbery cases in Asia rose nearly threefold to 29 incidents in the first three months of 2020, according to latest statistics from the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC), compared with 10 incidents reported in the same period last year.

There was an increase in the number of incidents on board ships while under way in the Singapore Strait from January to March 2020. Nine incidents were reported in the Singapore Strait during January–March 2020, compared with just two incidents during the same period in 2019.

However, Chinese ports showed an improvement, with no incidents reported during the first three months of the year, compared with three incidents in a year ago. Several pirates were also arrested off Gujarat in India, at Chittagong anchorage in Bangladesh, and in the Singapore Strait.

Among the 29 cases reported, there were 28 actual incidents and 1 attempt.

One of these was classed as a Category 1 incident, which involved at least four heavily armed perpetrators and harm to the crew. This was the abduction of eight crew from a fishing trawler off Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia, by the Abu Sayyaf, on 17 January. Five incidents were classed under Category 3 (armed perpetrators, crew not hurt), while 22 were classed under Category 4 (unarmed perpetrators, crew not hurt).

The incidents occurred at Martabari Anchorage, Bangladesh; Kakinada Anchorage, India; Port Kabil, Pulau Batam, Indonesia; Batangas Port, Philippines; and in the Singapore Strait. All five incidents involved pirates who were armed with either knives or sharp weapons. The perpetrators escaped after being spotted by the crew.

In one case, the crew on the Indonesian chemical/products tanker Horizon Maru confronted the pirates, managed to capture one of them, and handed him over to the police. Of the five incidents, two involved the loss of mooring ropes and one involved the loss of engine spares.

Among the 29 incidents reported during January–March 2020, 11 incidents occurred on board tugs, 8 on tankers, 6 on bulk carriers, 3 on container ships, and 1 on a fishing trawler. This deviates from the past 13-year trend of incidents during the January–March period of 2007–19 where 33% of the incidents occurred on board tankers, 30% on bulk carriers, and 18% on tugs/supply vessels.

ReCAAP ISC said, “The arrests of perpetrators demonstrate the importance of timely reporting of incidents by ships to the coastal state and the prompt response of the authorities. Collective efforts and shared responsibility by all stakeholders are indispensable in combating piracy and sea robbery.”