Singapore Strait is an “Area of Concern” While Global Piracy Declines

piracy and robbery aboard ships in Singapore and Asia
Singapore Strait remaisn the area of highest concern for robbery of ships underway in the eastern traffic lane (file photo)

While globally the incidents of piracy against commercial shipping continue to decline, Asia and specifically the Singapore Strait continues to be one of the areas of greater concern. The ReCAAP Information Sharing Center (ISC) released its mid-year report for 2022 highlighting an 11 percent increase in incidents in Asia while also conducting a dialogue session with the shipping industry to discuss steps required to reduce the regional risks.

ReCAAP’s mid-year report reflects the same issues identified by the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) which recently said that it received the lowest number of reported incidents for the first half of any year since 1994. While saying that incidents were nearing a 30-year low, they also pointed to the increase of low-level crimes in the Singapore Strait.

ReCAAP’s data shows that there was a total of 40 incidents of robbery against ships in Asia in the first half of 2022, which is up by 11 compared to the 38 reported incidents in 2021. More than half of those incidents were reported for ships transiting the Singapore Strait with a total of 27 reports up from 20 last year. “The Singapore Strait,” ReCAAP says, “remains an area of concern.” 

A closer analysis of the data shows that the activity is heavily concentrated at the eastern side of the Singapore Strait. Further, 19 of the incidents were in the eastbound traffic lane. Yet, while activity is high, it remains mostly low-level crime with boarders seeking to steal spare parts or other materials most often from open store lockers. Most often the perpetrators leave the vessels when they are discovered and often there is no direct confrontation and interaction between the crew and the boarders.  

Across Asia, ReCAAP says three-quarters of the incidents are classified at the lowest level meaning that the perpetrators are not armed and the crew was not harmed. However, nearly three-quarters of the incidents reported were on board ships while they were underway versus anchored or at berth. Only in two of the reports did the vessel report that the attempt at boarding was unsuccessful, but ReCAAP emphasized that reporting is critical to ensure an accurate understanding of the activity in the region.

The only other area that saw an increase in reports was the Chattigram anchorages in Bangladesh, where there were three reports versus none in 2021. There were no reports both in Malaysia and Vietnam and incidents declined by half to just three in the Philippines. Further, it is more than two years since there was a reported abduction of crew for ransom in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah. While the last abduction was in January 2020, ReCAAP advises that the threat remains potentially high recommending that vessels continue to re-route where possible.

During the discussion with the shipping industry, they highlighted the need to focus on the conduct of the crew while transiting these areas. The participants agreed on the need for the shipping industry to continually review the Risk Assessment Plan, implement the Ship Security Plan among other time-tested best management measures required to suppress the acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships, according to ReCAAP. They recommended that vigilance and lookouts be maximized and that an alarm should be sounded when sighting unauthorized persons on board ships or suspicious boats in the vicinity. 

Over the past 15 years, ReCAAP has focused on data analytics on the number of perpetrators, weapons carried, treatment of crew, stolen items, type of ships boarded, and time of the incidents. Phase II of the data analytics is underway and ReCAAP hopes to be able to provide more analytical information that will enable the ship crew to be better prepared for any potential piracy and armed robbery incidents by adopting the relevant safety measures, especially when navigating through the areas of concerns.

IMB Reports Piracy and Robberies at Lowest Levels in Nearly 30 Years

piracy and armed robbery incidents continue to decline
IMB credits increased vigilance and coordination of forces but calls for persistence (Danish Defence file photo)

Global piracy and armed robbery incidents are at their lowest level in nearly 30 years due to increased vigilance and coordinated efforts to reduce the threat to seafarers. The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) issued its report for the first half of 2022 detailing that it received the lowest number of reported incidents for the first half of any year since 1994.

The report shows that there were a total of 58 incidents in the first six months of this year. While 55 vessels were boarded, the IMB report shows that only one vessel was hijacked. The total number of incidents was down nearly 15 percent from the 68 reports in the first half of 2021.

“Not only is this good news for the seafarers and the shipping industry, it is positive news for trade which promotes economic growth,” said Michael Howlett, the Director of IMB. “But the areas of risk shift and the shipping community must remain vigilant. We encourage governments and responding authorities to continue their patrols which create a deterrent effect.”

Not all the news, however, is good. During the period 23 crew were still taken hostage and five more were threatened. The IMB highlights that no crew have been kidnapped so far this year and it received no reports of vessels having been fired upon. Nonetheless, 96 percent of the incidents involved vessels being boarded with more than half the reports (32 in total) of vessels that were at anchor. Another 19 vessels were attacked while underway.

Further, while the overall number continues to decline, they also warned that hotspots persist with focus continuing on the Gulf of Guinea and the Singapore Strait. They are also highlighting a continued higher than average number of reports coming from the anchorage at Callao, Peru. Five of the reports included perpetrators armed with knives and in one case with a gun. Four of the crew taken hostage this year were also taken from the Callao anchorage.

A quarter of all the incidents reported globally in 2022 occurred in the Singapore Strait, an area that has also been highlighted by ReCAPP for the danger to ships underway in the busy sea lanes. Sixteen vessels have all boarded in the Singapore Strait so far in 2022 with weapons used in six of the incidents. The incidents are categorized by IMB as low-level opportunistic crimes. Typically, they included boarded the ships looking for spare parts or other material that can be stolen with most of the perpetrators leaving when they are discovered. 

In the same region, IMB also highlights a slight increase in reported incidents for the first time since 2018 in the Indonesian archipelagic. A total of seven reports were received in 2022 versus five last year. This year, five vessels were boarded at anchor and one each while the vessels were at berth and steaming. Weapons were reported in at least three incidents with one crew reported threatened.

While 20 percent of the reports continued to come from the Gulf of Guinea, the IMB shows a steady decline during the first half of the year in each of the past five years. Incidents were down by approximately half to 12 this year, which compares to 23 last year and a peak of 50 in the first half of 2018. Ten of the reports this year were defined as armed robberies with the remaining two as piracy.

They credit the better coordination in the region as helping to contribute to the decline in attacks on ships. As an example, they cite the attack on a Panamax bulk carrier in April 260 miles of the coast of Ghana. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre alerted and liaised with the regional authorities and international warships to request assistance. An Italian warship and its helicopter responded ensuring the safety of the crew and then escorting the bulker to port.

In its report, IMB however also highlights that 74 percent of the crew taken hostage globally this year happened in the Gulf of Guinea. They repeated calls for the coastal response agencies and independent international navies to continue their efforts to ensure this crime is permanently addressed.

Yesterday, leaders in the shipping industry, including the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO, Intertanko, Intercargo, and Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), joined together to show their support for the efforts being undertaken by Nigerian forces to reduce the threat of piracy in the region and the progress in the region. The shipping associations joined with the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Maritime Safety Agency (NIMASA), and the Nigerian Industry Working Group (NIWG), to launch a new strategy to end piracy, armed robbery, and kidnapping in the Gulf of Guinea.

In announcing their cooperation, they said the strategy establishes a mechanism to periodically assess the effectiveness of country-piracy initiatives and commitments in the Gulf of Guinea. Targeted at all stakeholders operating in the region, they said it will identify areas of improvement and reinforcement in order to eliminate piracy.

The IMB in its half-year report points out that vigilance is required even in areas after piracy ceases. They warned for example that the threat of piracy still exists in the waters of the southern Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden, which include the Yemeni and Somali coasts, despite no reported incidents in 2022.

Myanmar used Russian-made aircraft in civilian attacks: Report

Yakovlev Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft
Myanmar Witness says it has verified that the Yakovlev Yak-130 is being used against civilians by the Myanmar military [File: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Published On 30 Jul 202230 Jul 2022

The Myanmar military has been accused of using Russian-made Yak-130 aircraft with ground attack capability against civilians, as it seeks to stamp out opposition to its rule.

Myanmar Witness, a London-based group that collects evidence of rights abuses in Myanmar, says it was able to verify open-source investigations on several occasions in which unguided rockets and 23mm cannons had been used in built-up areas.

“Myanmar Witness has verified the repeated deployment of the Yak-130 – a sophisticated, Russian manufactured, two-seat jet trainer with a documented ground attack capability – in Myanmar,” Myanmar Witness said in its report, which was released on Friday. “During this investigation, credible reports and geolocation have revealed the use of the Yak-130 within populated, civilian areas.”

Among the more recent incidents, video shared on Facebook last month showed at least one Yak-130 performing two passes and launching several salvos of unguided rockets towards the ground. A second video showed at least one Yak-130 performing at least five passes and firing about 18 salvos of unguided rockets.

The attacks were said to have taken place south of Myawaddy township in southeastern Karen state, where ethnic armed groups have long been fighting for autonomy and have been providing training and support to civilian militias established to fight back against the February 2021 coup.

Myanmar Witness geolocated the two videos and said they were filmed just 200 metres from the Thailand-Myanmar border.

It also verified an incident in February 2022, when at least one Yak-130 was identified taking part in an operation west of Loikaw, in Kayah state, also on the Thai border in the east.

“The indiscriminate employment of sophisticated attack aircraft, particularly when employed in coordination with other military aircraft, is in stark contrast to the means and methods employed by those groups who are viewed as insurgents by the Myanmar military,” the report said.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis in February 2021 when army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup prompted mass protests and an outpouring of anger to which the military has responded with force. More than 2,000 people have been killed in the crackdown, while nearly 700,000 have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.

Russia is a crucial supplier of weapons and equipment to the Myanmar military and Min Aung Hlaing was in Moscow earlier this month in pursuit of further deals.

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Russia delivered 12 aircraft to Myanmar between 2015 and 2019, when it was under a civilian administration, but in December last year six more jets were unveiled at the Meiktila air force base, Myanmar Witness said.

In March, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom blacklisted senior military officials, including the newly appointed chief of the air force, over the military’s escalating violence. The sanctions also targeted those sourcing and supplying weapons to the air force.

Rights groups have been pressing the international community to widen sanctions and impose an embargo on sales of jet fuel to Myanmar because of the military’s repeated air attacks on civilian populations.

Myanmar has to import all its aviation fuel whether for civilian or military purposes.