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Indonesian Pirate Arrest Leads to Broader Network in Malacca Strait

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Indonesian police in Aceh, North Sumatra, have confirmed the arrest of four pirates they claim are part of a larger syndicate operating in the Malacca Straits. The syndicate is reportedly directed by a prisoner in a North Sumatran jail and claims to donate a cut of its spoils to charity.

Aceh police detected the pirates after they hijacked KM Galant, a Singaporean vessel traveling through the Malacca Strait in early September.

Pirates demanded a $77,000 ransom and police tricked them into believing they would be paid. Instead, four alleged pirates were arrested in the past week.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Michale Tene says it is likely the arrests pointed to a much larger network operating in the strategic trading zone.

"I will not be surprised if the piracy activities in the region are part of a larger syndication because, certainly, if a boat or ship is pirated then they [the pirates] have to take charge of the ship and cargo and that will involve quite a sophisticated organization to avoid detection of the maritime authorities of the literal states. I think it is not a surprise that such a syndication might exist," Tene said.

The narrow waterway between Malaysia and the Indonesian island, Sumatra, is one of the most important shipping zones in the world. Some 30 percent of the world's trade and half of the world's oil shipments cross the strait, making it an attractive target for pirates

Aceh Police Chief Iskandar Hasan says the four men arrested were caught with handguns, hand grenades and received instructions from a prisoner held at a North Sumatran penitentiary.

The spoils of their piracy operations were divided up between the incarcerated leader and his gang, police say, with 10 percent donated to orphanages.

However, the foreign ministry spokesman says how the pirates spend their money does not justify the attacks.

"Definitely the ends certainly cannot defy the means," noted Tene, "even if they have good intentions certainly the means to provide such good intentions cannot be justified. Whatever the reasoning is piracy is still a serious crime that has to be eradicated."

Piracy in the 900-kilometer Malacca Strait has long been a concern for Indonesia and neighboring countries, Malaysia and Singapore. Earlier this month Malaysia and Indonesia launched a joint patrol operation in the area, part of a series of steps aimed at improving counter-piracy coordination.

"Around a decade ago we were facing serious problems with piracy in the Malacca Strait, but since then Indonesia has taken the steps to deal with these issues," explained Tene. "We have developed a regional cooperation with the other states to effectively deal with these issues. . . The cooperation has been very successful compared to a decade ago. The number of piracy incidents in the Malacca Strait has dropped significantly and this proves the effectiveness of this cooperation.”

In the first half of this year, the International Maritime Bureau recorded more than 50 incidents of piracy across Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the South China Sea. A regional piracy monitoring center in Singapore reports that, although the overall piracy situation in Asia has improved in the past year, sea lanes near Indonesia’s coastline remain the most common locations for pirate attacks.