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The need for swift action on Southeast Asian pirate hijackings

The need for swift action on Southeast Asian pirate hijackings
Sometimes the global fight against piracy is bit reminiscent of one of those “whack-a-mole” games in amusement arcades – every time you bash down the mole in one place it pops up in another. In the late 1990’s and into the first part of the 2000’s Southeast Asia was the global blackspot, however, pressure on regional governments saw the problem brought under control.

Around that time there were the first signs of problems off the failed state of Somalia. Within a few years these had spiralled completely out of control as scores of ships and their crews were held hostage at any one time. It was to take a combination of multi-national naval force deployments, which still remain, and owners turning to private maritime security companies to bring the scourge under control.

Now while this has resulted in global piracy figures dropping substantially shipping is far from free of attacks. A new, particularly violent form of piracy has come up in West Africa, where vessels are hijacked to steal their cargo.

Sadly in Southeast Asia this model seems to have been copied, at least thankfully with a lower level of violence, with an increasing number of small tankers being hijacked so that the pirates can come alongside in another vessel and steal the cargo.

This week piracy watchdog the International Maritime Bureau warned of the “worrying trend” of hijacking of small tankers in Southeast Asia. Government backed ReCAAP’s half-year report details five such attacks, and there have been two more in July alone. The rewards of such attacks are easy to quantify, the pirates that hit the tanker Moresby 9 stole 2,118 tonnes of MGO in the space of about six hours - a haul with a current value of around $2m.

These are not pirates in the traditional sense, these are well organised criminal gangs and syndicates, that, much as they did with the “phantom ship” hijackings in the region 15 years ago, have found a way to make easy money in a sector with generally little security. The fact that ReCAAP says the same owner has been hit three times this year, points to the organised criminal nature of these attacks.

Regional governments need to act now as clearly the number of hijackings is on the rise as the pirate gangs realise they can get away with it. Although small tankers, which are relatively easy to board, are the target at present, buoyed by success and the money that brings pirates could well start hitting larger vessels. Piracy off Somalia started initially around 2005 hitting slow moving tugs and barges and small fishing vessels.

If action is not taken the situation will surely get worse.