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Spike in Pirate Attacks in Indonesian Waters Raises Warnings

In the latest of a series of attacks in Southeast Asian waters, armed pirates attacked a Japanese chemical tanker off the Indonesian island of Mangkai in the South China Sea. Indonesia and its neighbors are coordinating efforts to fight the pirates.

Pirates armed with guns and knives are increasing their attacks on ships passing by three Indonesian islands off the east coast of Malaysia.

The International Maritime Bureau says 27 pirate attacks have been reported in the South China Sea since January, up from only seven in all of 2009. A spate of attacks since mid-August has deepened concerns at the maritime crime monitor, which warns ships to remain vigilant in the area.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Monday the country's navy is coordinating with the navies of Singapore and Malaysia to respond to the issue. He says the government plans to increase naval patrols in the area.

"The South China Sea is a very busy sea lane of communication, including the Strait of Malacca in Singapore," he said. "It is important on our part that we conduct coordinated patrols as well as close communication."

Globally acts of piracy are down this year, but an Asia security agency called ReCAAP reported a 40 percent increase in armed ship attacks in the region in the first half of 2010. So far the attacks have been minor, with no hostages taken or ships seized.

In an attack Sunday on a Japanese-owned tanker traveling from Singapore to China, the pirates stole cash and ransacked part of the ship, but the crew was not injured.

Faizasyah says Jakarta takes piracy very seriously. After a spike in pirate attacks in the late 1990s, Indonesia partnered with Malaysia and Singapore to ensure the security of the seas they all border. That cooperation helped stem the attacks.

Faizasyah says it is important for ships passing through the region to keep in close contact with authorities in the area. The International Maritime Bureau says pirates often abort their attacks once they are spotted, and that is where communication between ships on the water can make a difference.