Piracy On the Decline in Southeast Asia
By Wendell Minnick
SINGAPORE — Piracy may be heating up in the Gulf of Aden, but similar incidents in the waters of Southeast Asia — long described as pirate-infested — have declined over the past seven years.
Across the region, which includes the crucial Singapore and Malacca straits, piracy incidents have dropped from 165 in 2001 to 75 in 2008, according to the 2008 annual report issued by the London-based International Maritime Bureau. Among countries in the region, Indonesia saw the biggest drop, from 91 in 2001 to 28 in 2008.
In 2008, there were 65 actual attacks in the region. Of those, 35 were mounted against ships that were in port or otherwise not at sea. There were 11 hijackings of ships under way, mostly relatively small vessels, said Sam Bateman, a senior fellow in the Maritime Security Program at the S. Rajaratham School of International Studies here.
Bateman and others offered several reasons for the drop in regional piracy. First among them are maritime-security cooperation efforts by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
These include the Malacca Straits Patrol, establishedin 2004; Eyes in the Sky, 2005; the Surface Picture Surveillance System, 2005; the Intelligence Exchange Group, 2006; Cooperative Mechanism for the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2007; and the MSP Information Sharing program, 2008.
Perhaps the most visible was the 2006 creation of an information-sharing center here under the 14-country Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) effort. Japan, the architect of ReCAAP, also donated patrol boats to the effort.
More help from outside the region came from the United States, which provided money and technical support to set up 12 surveillance radars along the Malacca and Makassar straits.
Other factors that depressed piracy are the 2004 tsunami, which destroyed small boats used by pirates, and the 2005 peace agreement signed between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Attacks fell after the signing, confirming suspicions that GAM was responsible for earlier attacks, Bateman said.
Still another factor was the 2002 establishment of the IMO’s International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, which requires all ships above a certain tonnage engaged in international shipping to have additional security measures, including a “nominated ship security officer and a ship security plan,” Bateman said.
The Singapore and Malacca Straits, long critical arteries between the Pacific Rim and the Indian Ocean, see about 70,000 vessels carrying $390 billion worth of cargo each year.
That includes 80 percent to 90 percent of the energy needs of China, Japan and South Korea, said Joshua Ho, another senior fellow with S. Rajaratnam.