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Icon representing Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19
Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19

November 18th 2019
Icon representing CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus
CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus

October 2nd 2019
Icon representing CSOA First Response Report: Iran Seizes British Tanker
CSOA First Response Report: Iran Seizes British Tanker

July 20th 2019

Despite Recent Gains, SE Asia Still Hazardous

Written by David Rider 
November 4th 2016
Written by David Rider
While crew kidnapping in the Sulu Sea and Sabah areas off the Philippines remains a constant, nagging pain in the side of tug and barge operators, the larger Merchant Marine had escaped largely unscathed.


Robberies from vessels were down, and both the IMB and ReCAAP reported a significant reduction in crimes at sea. Certainly, the hijacking of small, coastal oil tankers which was so prevalent in 2015 has taken a backseat this year, thanks in no small part to the depressed oil price and arrests of gangs by the Indonesian authorities.


But as usual, just as the shipping industry began to breath a sigh of relief, the pirates have come back. On October 25th, at around 2030 LT in position 04:08.8N-112:30.0E, a group of armed pirates in two boats attacked and boarded the tug, Ever Ocean Silk, around 62nm North West of Tanjung Kidurong, Bintulu, Sarawak, Malaysia. The tug was towing the barge, Ever Giant, laden with palm oil – a far more valuable commodity at present than crude oil or marine gas oil (MGO).


While the details of the incident remain sketchy, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency was a little shy about calling it a hijacking at the time. However, when the pirates boarded, they took the crew hostage and isolated them before robbing the vessel of cash and crew belongings. The pirates also stole navigation equipment before offloading a quantity of the palm oil cargo, which meant another vessel had to have been ready for the lightering operation.


The slowness of the authorities to admit this was a hijack illustrates the greater political issues at play in Southeast Asian waters, which meant that the industry lacked a certain amount of domain awareness until the hijacking was confirmed.


While crime is definitely down, the much vaunted joint patrols by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have still not taken place, and the Abu Sayyaf Group continues to attack small boats and kidnap crew members for ransom, earning an estimated $7.3 million in six months from the crime.


The lack of coordinated response to the ongoing problems in the region is certainly worrying for the shipping industry and, if pirates are indeed back in business, then small coastal tankers will remain at risk.