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Tanker Hijackings on the Rise in Southeast Asia

FILE - Malaysian marine police officers inspect the Naniwa Maru 1 at Klang port, Malaysia after the Singapore-owned tanker was robbed by pirates, April 23, 2014.

Pirates continue to hijack a coastal tanker on the average of once every two weeks to steal their cargo of fuel, according to data released Wednesday by the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center.

A total of 134 incidents of piracy and armed robbery globally were reported to the center from January through June, an increase from 116 during the same period last year.

So far this year, 250 crew members have been taken hostage with one fatality and nine injuries.

Eleven out of the 13 hijackings reported in the first half of the year were in Southeast Asia.

“The serious attacks are the hijackings of the tankers in Southeast Asia and this year there has been a higher number in the first two quarters of this year than in the first two quarters of 2014” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan in London.

Overall, attacks in Southeast Asia are greater in number than those of all other regions combined with one-third of all incidents occurring off the coast of Indonesia although “the majority of these related to low-level opportunistic thefts from vessels,” according to the IMB.

Type of vessel attacked by pirates in 134 incidents from January to June, 2015.
Type of vessel attacked by pirates in 134 incidents from January to June, 2015.

There were 54 actual or attempted attacks in or near Indonesian waters in the first half of 2015, compared to 47 in the same period last year.

Vietnam had only one incident in the first half of 2014 but recorded 11 in the first six months of this year.

There was a significant increase in armed robbery attacks on vessels in Bangladesh – and at Chittagong in particular -- in the second quarter of this year with 10 incidents reported compared to only one in the first three months of 2015.

Total incidents per region, January to June, 2015.
Total incidents per region, January to June, 2015.

“It is the attacks against vessels at anchor and some of the people do have knives and guns in some cases,” Mukundan told VOA. “Better law enforcement activity is needed around these ports.”

A coordinated effort among Southeast Asian nations a decade ago, focusing on the Strait of Malacca off Malaysia, gradually pushed piracy into other waters.

There are reportedly discussions of launching such multi-national naval and coast guard operations again in Southeast Asia against the pirates.

“The key countries here are Indonesia and Malaysia, which have the largest coastlines in these waters. When they are totally mobilized, as they were 2005-2006, it brings those attacks down. We need that to happen again,” said Mukundan who adds there are recent some notable recent examples of “understanding and support between them.”

The IMB's piracy reporting center, based in Kuala Lumpur, monitors pirate attacks around the clock. A real-time map of incidents is viewable online.