Piracy & Armed Robbery in Asia: ReCAAP ISC Report

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(Image Courtesy: ReCAAP ISC)

INCIDENTS OF PIRACY AND ARMED ROBBERY AGAINST SHIPS IN ASIA IN JULY 2019

OVERVIEW

A total of six incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported in Asia in July 2019. Of the six incidents, one was an incident of piracy and five were incidents of armed robbery against ships. There was no report of abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah; and no hijacking of ships for theft of oil cargo reported in July 2019. However, the abduction of crew for ransom in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah remains a serious concern. On this issue, the ReCAAP ISC has made a Guidance on the abduction of crew in the Sulu Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah.

JULY 2019

NUMBER OF INCIDENTS

In July 2019, six actual incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported. The incidents have been verified and reported to ReCAAP ISC by ReCAAP Focal Points.

Compared to July 2018, there was a 33% decrease in the number of incidents reported in July 2019. A total of nine incidents were reported in July 2018 compared to six incidents in July 2019. Graph 1 shows the number of incidents reported each month from July 2018 to July 2019.

STATUS OF SHIPS

Of the six incidents reported in July 2019, four incidents occurred on board ships while underway (in the Singapore Strait and South China Sea) and two incidents on board ships at berth (in Indonesia and Vietnam).

SIGNIFICANCE LEVEL OF INCIDENTS

Of the six actual incidents reported in July 2019, one was a CAT 2 incident and five were CAT 4 incidents. The CAT 2 incident occurred in the South China Sea and the perpetrators were armed with guns and knives. They boarded the bulk carrier while underway, threatened the crew, stole cash from the ship’s safe and took the crew’s personal belongings. Two crew sustained minor injuries. Of the five CAT 4 incidents, three incidents occurred in the

Singapore Strait and the other two incidents occurred at ports/anchorages off Batam, Indonesia and Lotus Port, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Chart 1 shows the significance level of incidents reported in July of 2007-2019.

LOCATION OF INCIDENTS

The location of the incidents reported in July 2019 is shown in Map 1.

JANUARY-JULY 2019

NUMBER OF INCIDENTS

During January-July 2019, a total of 34 incidents (31 actual incidents and three attempted incidents4) were reported in Asia. Of the 34 incidents, 31 were incidents of armed robbery against ships and three were piracy incidents. Compared to January-July 2018, there was a 32% decrease in the total number of incidents reported during January-July 2019. The number of actual incidents has also decreased by 18%. A total of 50 incidents (38 actual incidents and 12 attempted incidents) were reported during January-July 2018.

The improvement of the situation during January-July 2019 can be attributed to the improvement at ports and anchorages in Bangladesh and Indonesia. No incident was reported at Bangladesh’s ports and anchorages during January-July 2019 compared to eight incidents reported at these ports and anchorages during the same period in 2018. The number of incidents at Indonesia’s ports and anchorages also decreased to 10 incidents (comprising eight actual and two attempted incidents) during January-July 2019 compared to 22 incidents (comprising 17 actual and five attempted incidents) during the same period in 2018.

However, there was an increase in the number of incidents in the Singapore Strait during January-July 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. A total of 11 actual incidents were reported in the Singapore Strait during January-July 2019 compared to seven incidents (comprising five actual and two attempted incidents) during the same period in 2018.

Both the total number of incidents and the number of actual incidents reported during January-July 2019 are the lowest among the 13-year period of January-July of 2007-2019. Graph 2 shows the total number of incidents reported during January-July of 2007-2019.

SIGNIFICANCE LEVEL OF INCIDENTS

Chart 2 shows the significance level of incidents reported during January-July of 2007- 2019. Of the 31 actual incidents reported during January-July 2019, one was a CAT 1 incident, three were CAT 2 incidents, two were CAT 3 incidents and 25 were CAT 4 incidents.

The CAT 1 incident reported during January-July 2019 involved the abduction of nine crew from two fishing boats on 18 Jun 19 off Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia. All the nine abducted crew were released on 21 Jun 19. No CAT 1 incident was reported during January-July 2018. The number of CAT 2 incidents has remained the same for the period of January-July of three consecutive years [2017, 2018 and 2019]. The number of CAT 3 and CAT 4 incidents have decreased during January-July 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.

UPDATE ON SITUATION IN THE SINGAPORE STRAIT

JULY 2019

In July 2019, three incidents of armed robbery against ships occurred in close proximity to each other in the western sector of the Singapore Strait. The three incidents occurred to tug boats towing barges and were boarded while they were underway in the westbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) in the Singapore Strait. The description of the three incidents are as follows:

At about 1030 hrs, tug boat, Modalwan 11 towing barge, Lion Kimtrans 2301 was underway at approximately 2.9 nm south of Tanjung Piai, Johor, Malaysia in the westbound lane of the TSS in the Singapore Strait when an unknown number of perpetrators boarded the barge from six small wooden boats. They stole scrap metal from the barge and escaped. The master reported the incident to the Malaysian authority who dispatched a patrol vessel to investigate the incident. There was no confrontation between the perpetrators and crew. The crew was not injured.

This is the second time within two months that the same tug boat, Modalwan 11 was boarded while underway in the Singapore Strait. On 19 May 19, perpetrators in four sampans boarded barge, Asiapride 2332 towed by tug boat, Modalwan 11, and stole some scrap metal from the barge.

At about 0430 hrs, tug boat, Sung Fatt 31 towing barge, Sung Fatt 36 was underway at approximately 0.6 nm west of North Nipa Beacon, Indonesia in the westbound lane of the TSS in the Singapore Strait when the crew spotted some perpetrators boarding the barge from some sampans. Sung Fatt 31 and Sung Fatt 36 were carrying scrap metal bound for Penang, Malaysia. The perpetrators stole some scrap metal and escaped in their sampans. There was no confrontation between the perpetrators and the crew. The crew was not injured.

The master reported the incident to the Singapore Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS) who notified the Singapore Police Coast Guard and Singapore Navy. The Malaysian counterparts and Indonesian authorities were also informed, and a safety navigational broadcast was initiated.

This is the second time within four months that the same tug boat, Sung Fatt 31 towing Sung Fatt 36 were boarded while underway in the Singapore Strait. On 5 Mar 19, 11 perpetrators boarded barge Sung Fatt 36 and escaped in their small craft with some scrap metal.

At about 0703 hrs, tug boat, Virgo 29 towing barge, Victory 9 was underway at approximately 2.6 nm southeast of Tanjung Piai, Johor, Malaysia in the westbound lane of the TSS in the Singapore Strait when some perpetrators boarded the barge. Virgo 29 and Victory 9 were carrying scrap metal bound for Penang, Malaysia. The VTIS of Singapore informed the master via VHF that some sampans were approaching the barge. The master raised the alarm and the perpetrators escaped immediately. The crew was not injured and nothing was stolen from the barge. The tug boat and barge continued their voyage to Penang. The Singapore Police Coast Guard and the Malaysian authorities were notified about the incident, and a safety navigational broadcast was initiated.

JANUARY-JULY 2019

During January-July 2019, a total of 11 actual incidents occurred to tug boats towing barges in the western sector of the Singapore Strait. Of the 11 incidents, six incidents reported the loss of scrap metal from the barges, two incidents reported loss of tools, and nothing was reported stolen in the other three incidents. Refer to the map below on the approximate location of the 11 incidents.

RECOMMENDATION

With most of the 11 incidents occurred in close proximity to each other and within a period of six months (Feburary-July 2019), the ReCAAP ISC urges the relevant littoral States to step up surveillance, increase patrols and respond promptly to all reports of incidents. Since the crew of tug boat is not always aware of what is happening on the towed barge, timely information of the presence of suspected perpetrators near a barge by the authorities to the ship master is useful. In the incident involving tug boat, Virgo 29 towing barge Victory 9, information by the Singapore Navy to the ship master enabled the master to raise alarm which made the perpetrators escape without stealing anything.

The ReCAAP ISC advises ships transiting in the Singapore Strait, particularly tug boats towing barges to exercise enhanced vigilance, look out for suspcioius small boats, adopt extra precautionary measures and report all incidents to the nearest coastal State.

PIRACY INCIDENT IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

On 22 Jul 19 at about 0325 hrs, seven perpetrators armed with guns and knives boarded CK Bluebell while she was underway in the South China Sea (SCS) at approximately 28 nm west of Anambas Islands, Indonesia. The perpetrators threatened the ship captain, chief engineer and duty navigator; and stole approximately 13,000 USD from the ship’s safe and took away the crew’s personal belongings. Two of the crew sustained minor injury. The perpetrators left the ship at about 0400 hrs. CK Bluebell continued her voyage towards the next port of call at Incheon, Republic of Korea.

The master reported the incident to Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. The Korean authorities informed the Singapore’s Port Operations Control Centre (POCC) who notified the Singapore Navy, Singapore Police Coast Guard and initiated the safety navigational broadcast. The Indonesian authority was also notified.

OBSERVATIONS

Prior to the incident involving CK Bluebell, the two incidents in the vicinity occurred on board chemical tanker, Alice on 28 May 17 and a bulk carrier on 8 Nov 17. In both incidents, the perpetrators were armed with guns and knives, threatened the crew, stole cash and crew’s personal belongings before they escaped.

From 2007 to July 2017, a total of 34 incidents were reported in the west of the Anambas Islands (P. Mangkai/P. Jemaja/P. Damar), Indonesia in the South China Sea. The 34 incidents occurred between 12.6 nm to 45 nm (mostly less than 30 nm) in the west of the Anambas Islands. Refer to Map 3 on the approximate location of the 34 incidents.

While the number of incidents off the Anambas Islands in the South China Sea have decreased in recent years, ships transiting the area are advised to take the following measures:

  1. Maintain sufficient distance from these islands, taking into account the locations of past incidents
  2. Keep a high speed when transiting
  3. Exercise enhanced vigilance
  4. Implement preventive measures recommended in the “Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia”
  5. In case of boarding by perpetrators, stay calm and do not antagonize them who are usually armed with guns and knives

UPDATE ON SITUATION OF ABDUCTION OF CREW IN THE SULU-CELEBES SEAS AND WATERS OFF EASTERN SABAH SITUATION UPDATE

In July 2019, there was no report of abduction of crew from ships in the Sulu-Celebes Seas. The last actual incident occurred on 18 Jun 19 where nine crew were abducted from two fishing boats off Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia. The nine crew were later released by the abductors on 21 Jun 19.

STATUS OF ABDUCTED CREW

Of the 75 crew abducted by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) since March 2016, 65 crew were released/rescued and 10 killed/died. There is no more crew being held in captivity. The rescue and release of the abducted crew was the result of the intensified military and law enforcement operations of the Philippine authorities. These operations are undertaken continuously in order to neutralise the militant group.

ReCAAP ISC ADVISORY

As the risk of the abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah is high as demonstrated by the abduction of nine crew on 18 Jun 19, the ReCAAP ISC reiterates its advisory issued via the ReCAAP ISC Incident Alert dated 21 Nov 16 to all ships to reroute from the area, where possible. Otherwise, ship masters and crew are strongly urged to exercise extra vigilance while transiting the area, and report immediately to the Operation Centres of Philippines and Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) of Malaysia.

CONCLUSION

The total number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported during January-July 2019 has decreased by 32% compared to January-July 2018. The number of actual incidents decreased by 18%.

Both the total number of incidents and number of actual incidents during January-July 2019 are the lowest among the 13-year period of January-July of 2007-2019.

The decrease in the number of incidents was most apparent at the ports and anchorages in Bangladesh and Indonesia. However, more need to be done regarding the situation involving tug boats towing barges while underway in the Singapore Strait. With the occurrence of 11 incidents in close proximity to each other within a period of six months, the ReCAAP ISC recommends that all ships, particularly tug boats to exercise enhanced vigilance when transiting the area, and the law enforcement agencies to enhance surveillance and increase patrols.

As the threat of abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah is still high, the ReCAAP ISC advises the shipping industry to exercise extra vigilance when transiting the area, report immediately to the reporting centres and adopt the measures recommended in the ReCAAP ISC’s “Guidance on Abduction of Crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and Waters off Eastern Sabah”.

The ReCAAP ISC urges law enforcement agencies to continue to enhance surveillance, increase patrols and respond promptly to reports of incidents. Ships transiting areas of concern are to exercise enhanced vigilance, maintain all round lookout for suspicious boats, report all incidents to the nearest coastal State and flag State immediately, and implement preventive measures recommended in the “Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia”.

(Source: ReCAAP ISC)

Sea News, August 9