Neighbors cooperate to combat piracy in the Singapore Strait

Neighbors cooperate to combat piracy in the Singapore Strait

Top Stories | Feb 21, 2020:

FORUM Staff

Singapore plans to restructure its Maritime Security Task Force and increase cooperation with neighboring littoral states to combat an uptick in piracy in the Singapore Strait.

Piracy in the strait, pictured, reached a four-year high as robbers boarded ships 31 times in 2019. Only 17 incidents of piracy occurred in the Singapore Strait from 2016 through 2018. Nine of the incidents in 2019 involved armed bandits, according to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) information-sharing center.

Crews were tied up in two cases, and items stolen included a gold chain, engine parts and scrap metal. In one of the more serious incidents, six bandits armed with knives boarded the tanker Jag Lalit on December 20, 2019, about 6.5 kilometers north of Pulau Nongsa, Indonesia. The robbers punched a crew member in the face and stole a gold chain from the chief engineer, leaving him with a bruised neck.

Masafumi Kuroki, ReCAAP’s executive director, said he hopes Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore improve their sharing of information and enforcement to battle this threat.

“The message is to ask the littoral states to enhance their surveillance and patrol in the Singapore Strait because of this rapid increase of incidents,” he said, according to a Channel NewsAsia report. “The Singapore and Malacca straits are very important for international navigation. Therefore, the responsibility is on all the littoral states to keep the straits safe and secure.”

Singapore Defence Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen told Singapore’s Parliament that he plans to complete a review within the next few months on how to restructure the Maritime Security Task Force to counter the threat, reported The Straits Timesnewspaper. The Singapore Navy task force was established in 2009 and works with law enforcement and maritime agencies to conduct daily patrols and boarding operations in Singapore’s territorial waters.

As for regional cooperation, representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand already met in Singapore in January 2019 to discuss the increase in robberies at sea. The four countries since 2004 have shared intelligence and conducted sea and air patrols in the Malacca and Singapore straits. The 2019 incidents took place along the length of the Singapore Strait, which is managed by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Kuroki said it is difficult to ascertain whose territorial waters were violated in each of the robberies because the bandits constantly crossed borders. “It’s a transnational crime,” he said.

One maritime expert attributed the increase in piracy to a downturn in enforcement. Ridzwan Rahmat, a defense analyst at Jane’s Information Group, said Indonesia has committed many of its ships to a territorial standoff in the South China Sea with the People’s Republic of China, leaving a gap in the Singapore Strait, according to the Channel NewsAsia report.

“The fleet that oversees the Strait of Singapore also oversees the Natuna Sea,” he said. “If you were the Indonesian naval commander, where would you be prioritizing your fleet?”

The Indonesian military alerted its combat forces stationed in this disputed part of the South China Sea in January 2020 in response to Chinese vessels trespassing into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, the Jakarta Globe newspaper reported.

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