Piracy on the rise in SE Asia

A series of incidents in recent weeks has highlighted the ongoing problem in the region.

Piracy on the rise in SE Asia

Piracy in the Indian Ocean may well be on the wane, thanks to the use of armed guards and a more pro-active naval coalition, but the same isn’t true for the rest of the world.

West Africa continues to experience hijackings and maritime crime, with the MT Fair Artemis being the latest victim, hijacked on June 4th and released, minus its cargo and various other items, on June 11th. According to Steve Phelps of Cardinal Decision Support Systems, 18 Pirates abandoned the vessel in a position 12nm off the Edo State coastline. They left in a twin-outboard engined boat and headed for the Lagos Anchorage. 3500 metric tonnes of cargo had been stolen and transferred to an unidentified tanker said to be of Nigerian flag.

The release took place in an area with a long association with tanker hijacks and transfers of stolen refined product cargo as well as transfers of stolen crude.

Asia, meanwhile, is seeing a significant increase in reports. Enough of an increase for the International Maritime Bureau to issue an alert to shipping companies this week. The alert states that a total of five hijackings have been reported in recent weeks and then goes on to list the positions of the incidents:

1. 22.04.2014      – 02:59N – 100:54E

2. 17.04.2014      – 01:59N – 104:25E

3. 28.05.2014      – 01:30N – 104:50E

4. 31.05.2014      – 04:03N – 112:26E

5. 07.06.2014      – 03:57N – 111:57E

What makes this particularly interesting is the timing. The end of May saw a spate of incidents off Nipa Anchorage, Indonesia, where armed men attempted to rob vessels. And, on May 28th, the MT Orapin 4 was hijacked approximately 19nm off Indonesia in the South China Sea by 10 armed men. They painted over the ship’s name, changing it to ‘Rap’ and destroyed communications equipment on board. They tied up the crew and proceeded to the bridge to control the tanker. Later, another tanker came alongside and around 3,700 mt of ADF was removed in an operation that took approximately 10 hours.

On May 31st, a Panama-flagged chemical tanker, the MT Lucas, was underway at 0515 LT when it was boarded in position 04:03N-112.26E, around 60nm NW of Bintulu, Malaysia. Ten armed pirates tied up the duty officer and lookout before asking them details of the vessel’s destination, type of cargo, nationality of the crew and complement. Clearly, it wasn’t the ship they were after, because they left. Before leaving, the pirates destroyed the ship’s comms equipment and stole ship and crew property.

Fast forward to June 7th and the MT Buda Mesra Dua, en route from Singapore to Labuan, is hijacked off Bintulu, Malaysia. A gang of men armed with machetes and hammers boarded the ship at around 11:30pm local time, tied up the crew and confined them in a room. The Captain and Chief Officer were ordered to shut down the ship’s engines as a vessel approached and came alongside. According to media reports, the pirates then pumped out around 100 metric tonnes of diesel into the second ship.

Media reports differ on the number of members of the gang, with some stating six men and others saying 10. However, they agree that all the men wore masks and dark green overalls. Once the STS operation was complete, the pirates then ransacked the ship and stole crew personal belongings and ship’s property. In total, the hijacking lasted 10 hours.

Was the Lucas boarding a mistake or an attempt to gain intelligence on tanker movements in the region?

What’s interesting is that no-one seems to have been aware of this hijack until it broke in the local media on June 12th, with the Malaysian Enforcement Maritime Agency leading the investigation. At this stage, we don’t know if the pirates painted over the ship’s name as they did with the Orapin 4, but it’s likely given the duration of the hijacking that they did something to mask the ship’s identity.

Both incidents show similarities to the April 17th hijacking of the Thai-flagged tanker, Sri Phangnga. In that hijacking, 16 pirates armed with swords and guns boarded the ship around 18nm off Tanjung Sedili, Malaysia, painted over the ship name, destroyed comms equipment and transferred around 450mt of MOGAS to a tanker which came alongside.

Clearly, hijacking for cargo theft is alive and well in Asia, and its resurgence seems to have taken everyone by surprise. It’s hardly surprising that many Thai ship owners are now pushing to be allowed to carry armed guards while transiting the region.

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