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Attacks against ships in Singapore Strait remain of concern

A total of 17 incidents of armed robbery against ships were reported in Asia during January-March 2021, marking a 39% decrease compared to the same period in 2020, ReCAAP ISC said in its first quarterly report for 2021.

The incidents decreased in Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, Singapore Strait and Sulu-Celebes Seas, while there was a slight increase of incidents in Vietnam.

The continued occurrence of incidents in the Singapore Strait and the threat of the abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah remain the main areas of concern.

Despite a decrease of incidents in several locations, the ReCAAP ISC urges the law enforcement agencies to continue to enhance surveillance, increase patrols and respond promptly to incidents reported by ships and to make more arrests. Ship masters and crew are advised not to let their guard down, but to exercise vigilance, maintain constant lookout for suspicious boats in the vicinity, report all incidents immediately to the nearest coastal State, and implement preventive measures recommended in the ‘Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia’.

The arrests of perpetrators demonstrate the importance of timely reporting of incidents by ships to the coastal States and the prompt response by the coastal States. The ReCAAP ISC reiterates that collective efforts and shared responsibility by all stakeholders are indispensable in combating piracy and sea robbery.

Key figures January-March 2021

-A total of 17 incidents of armed robbery against ships were reported in Asia during January-March 2021.

-No piracy incident was reported during this period.

-Of the 17 incidents, 16 were actual incidents and one was an attempted incident.

-Compared to January-March 2020, the total number of incidents reported during January-March 2021 decreased by 39%. During January-March 2020, 28 incidents (comprising 27 actual incidents and one attempted incident) were reported.

-Of the 16 actual incidents reported during January-March 2021, six were CAT 3 incidents and 10 were CAT 4 incidents. There was no CAT 1 and no CAT 2 incidents.

The decrease of incidents during January-March 2021 as compared to January-March 2020 occurred in the following locations:

  • In Bangladesh, no incident was reported during January-March 2021 compared to two incidents during January-March 2020.
  • In India, one incident was reported during January-March 2021 compared to six incidents during the same period in 2020.
  • In the Philippines, two incidents were reported during January-March 2021 compared to four incidents during the same period in 2020.
  • In the Singapore Strait, seven incidents were reported during January-March 2021 compared to nine incidents during the same period in 2020.
  • In the Sulu-Celebes Seas, no incident was reported during January-March 2021 compared to one incident during the same period in 2020. However, there was an increase of incidents in Vietnam. Two incidents were reported in Vietnam during January-March 2021 compared to no incident reported during January-March 2020.

Singapore Strait January – March 2021

During January-March 2021, a total of seven incidents were reported in the Singapore Strait. Of the seven incidents, six incidents occurred in the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) in the Singapore Strait, and one incident in the westbound lane of the TSS. The observations are as follows:

  1. Of the seven incidents, four incidents involved bigger ships (bulk carrier and general cargo ship), and three incidents involved tug boats towing barges/rig.
  2. Perpetrators carried knives in three incidents onboard bigger ships while underway off Tanjung Pergam, Indonesia in the eastern sector of the Singapore Strait. The perpetrators did not harm the crew with knives. In one of the incidents, the perpetrator threatened a duty oiler with a knife before escaping from the ship.
  3. The perpetrators were sighted in the engine room in all of the four incidents involving bigger ships. Of the four incidents, the perpetrators managed to steal engine spares in one incident but escaped empty-handed in the remaining three incidents.
  4. In all three incidents that involved tug boats on tow, the perpetrators managed to steal items onboard unmanned barges (in two incidents) and an unmanned rig (one incident). The items stolen were shackles and steel wires on board the barges, and a buoy tied behind the rig. There was no confrontation between the perpetrators and the crew of the tug boats.
  5. All the four incidents involving bigger ships occurred during hours of darkness, and the three incidents involving tug boats on tow occurred during daylight hours.

Number of incidents during 2007-2020

During the 14-year period of 2007-2020, a total of 1,740 incidents (comprising 1,534 actual incidents and 206 attempted incidents) were reported in Asia. During this period, the number of incidents fluctuated over the years, with the highest number of incidents in 2015 (203) and the lowest in 2018 (76).

The incidents reported during January-March 2021 were consistent with the trend of past incidents during the 14-year period of 2007-2020, in terms of the type of weapons carried by perpetrators, treatment of crew, type of losses and time of incidents. However, there was some deviation in terms of the number of perpetrators and the type of ships boarded.