The terrorist group Abu Sayaaf started attacking commercial vessels in the Sulu-Celebes sea area in March last year and successfully kidnapping crew from 10 vessels, with a further six unsuccessful attacks.
Masafumi Kuroki, executive director, told a media briefing on Friday: “We have a very serious concern over abduction of crew which started in March and continues.”
Prior to the first kidnapping incident in March there had Kuroki said there had been no similar attacks reported in the area in the 10 years that ReCAAP has been in operation.
In total some 48 seafarers were taken hostage in the area last year and 33 have since been released. Kuroki was unable to say if shipping companies had paid ransoms for the release of the kidnapped crew, although this would seem the likely scenario.
In a worrying trend for international commercial shipping the kidnappers have moved away from targeting small, slow moving vessels such as tugs and barges and fishing boats to all types of ships.
Of the 10 successful attacks, five were against tugboats, three against fishing vessels, one on a bulker and one general cargoship.
The six attempted attacks were against five bulkers and one product tanker. Six attacks in November alone were all against large sized, oceangoing commercial vessels, prompting ReCAAP to send out a warning to international shipping.
Kuroki believes the shift was possibly due to warnings to small shipowners in East Malaysia, which resulted in them making their vessels more secure.
The attacks take place in daylight and the perpetrators are usually had firearms.
ReCAAP advises shipowners and managers to re-route their vessels to avoid the Sulu-Celebes sea area, which many bulkers heading from Australia to North Asia normally transit.
Kuroki was unable to say if owners were heeding the warning steer clear of the area, which would result in longer transits and higher costs.
But it was not all bad news in 2016. The number of vessels to steel oil cargoes dropped to three last year in Asia compared to 12 in 2015. There was also an extremely sharp drop in the number of attacks in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore from 104 in 2015 to just two last year. ReCAAP credits this sharp drop to the arrest of perpetrators and coordinated patrols by the littoral states.
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