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Shipping companies turn to private security as maritime threat rises in SE Asia

October 3rd 2014
Malaysia's defence minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, says the country remains at risk of possible attacks by Islamic State militants - with attacks most likely to be carried out at sea. Some in the shipping industry are now hiring private security companies to keep their cargo and crew safe.

KUALA LUMPUR: South East Asian waterways are among the busiest in the world. Each year, almost 50,000 ships - carrying half the world's trade and one-third of global oil - ply the narrow Straits of Malacca across the South China Sea to meet the burgeoning demands of East Asian economies.

This important shipping lane is now the world's most dangerous - the number one hotspot for piracy and other international crimes.

According to maritime security experts, 75 cases have already been reported in this region alone this year, compared to 68 cases reported elsewhere around the world. Oil tankers are the main targets - 11 were hijacked between January and September 2014 and most took place on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia in the South China Sea by armed syndicates that seized the ships and siphoned off thousands of litres of oil before making a quick escape.

Security experts are concerned these syndicates may link up with regional terror groupings like Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, which have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

'Number one, top of the list is terrorism, of course after the likes of Lahad Datu, we cannot discount anything,' said Muhammad Zubairy Husain, managing director of Ratusan Paki Security. 'Not only the shipping industry, you must also look into oil rigs as well. We have more than 300 rigs all over pan-Malaysian waters now. We should really look into seriously safeguarding all these, (for example) if ships were used as bombs or things like that. It's really a time bomb in that sense.'

Ratusan Paki Security consists of 150 ex-elite forces operatives. But hiring them is expensive and only a few shipowners have so far opted for this level of protection. Captain Muniswaran Damalinggam, Manager of Lloyd's Register of Shipping, said: 'It's better, insurers will definitely like it. But its pricey and not many countries allow armed guards to board with their weapons.'

Heightened tensions in the Middle East are already having an impact on regional risk assessments, driving up costs for products, which will eventually be passed on to consumers.