Seatrade Maritime is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Uncovering a black market for stolen ship engine spares

Photo: Marcus Hand ReCAAP-briefing-July-2024.jpg
ReCAAP ISC Executive Director Krishnaswamy Natarajan
Engine spares are a common item to be stolen from vessels boarded by sea robbers in Singapore and Malacca Straits raising the possibility of a black market for such parts.

At a media briefing for its half year report the ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre highlighted that the stealing of engine spares is unique to incidents in the Singapore and Malacca Straits.

“Our concern is the engine spares that are being stolen,” ReCAAP ISC Executive Director Krishnaswamy Natarajan told journalists. ReCAAP is trying to analyse where the spares are going and whether there is a black market for such items.

The stealing of engine spares is considerably more involved that taking items stored on deck such as tins of paint, or scrap metal, that is seen in incidents in other parts of Asia.

Natarajan noted that a ship’s engine room is usually four to five decks down below the main deck so perpetrators not only have to board the vessel, but also find access to the engine room and know exactly where the spares are located before stealing the items. The stolen items then have to be taken back up through the vessel and overboard to robbers’ own craft.

“We are now trying to identify whether it [the robberies] is happening on a vessel which are on a regional trade route or an international trade route, or there is any connivance [with the crew],” he explained.

One possibility given the fairly unique and specialised nature of engine spares that criminals sell the stolen items back to the unwitting vessel owner who is unable to source replacements from OEMs.

As to whether crew members are involved in conniving with the perpetrators Natarajan said it was something they were so far unable to establish despite repeatedly asking shipowners.

In some good news the number of incidents in the Singapore and Malacca Straits reported in the first half of 2024 was down 49% year-on-year at 21.

ReCAAP attributes the drop in incidents to a stepping up of enforcement actions by the littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, including arrests and coordinated patrols.

The majority, some 81% of incidents, occurred on bulk carriers, with a drop in the number of incidents involving tugs and barges following previous arrests of perpetrators targeting such low draught and slow-moving vessels.