Indonesia remains ship-attack hotspot

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An Indonesian sailor looks out at the Singapore coast from an anti-piracy center in Batam, Indonesia. Photo: PA

Piracy incidents are at their lowest level for eight years, but ship hijackings almost doubled between 2013 and 2014, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has revealed in its end-of-year report. The overall reduction is largely attributable to the continuing suppression of Somali piracy.

Released today, the report shows that 21 ships were hijacked between 1 January and 31 December 2014, compared with 12 the previous year. In total, 245 actual and attempted attacks are listed worldwide, although IMB cautions that there is under-reporting in some areas.

Indonesia dominates the statistics with 100 incidents – a slight improvement on 2013’s figure of 106. Pulau Bintan, in the Riau Archipelago on the southern side of the Singapore Strait, is the most incident-prone port, accounting for 35 reports. Eighteen incidents were listed for Karimun Besar and Karimun Kecil in Indonesia, while 18 of Bangladesh’s 21 actual and attempted attacks took place at the Chittagong anchorage.

The high number of boardings in Southeast Asia helps explain that the Singapore-flagged (32 vessels) and Hong Kong-flagged (16 vessels) vessels are among the most frequently attacked, along with Panama (44 vessels), Marshall Islands (36 vessels), and Liberia (20 vessels).

Ships at anchor attracted almost two-thirds of the Indonesian attacks. Overall, crude oil and product/chemical tankers were the ship types at greatest risk, representing 110 out of the 245 vessels boarded, hijacked, fired upon, or otherwise assaulted. Fifty five bulk carriers and 20 container ships were also affected.

The 2014 figures represent a considerable improvement compared with the worst days of the Somali piracy crisis, but it still left four seafarers dead, 13 injured, nine held for ransom, and 442 held hostage.

“The global increase in hijackings is due to a rise in attacks against coastal tankers in Southeast Asia,” IMB director Pottengal Mukundan explained in a statement. “Gangs of armed thieves have attacked small tankers in the region for their cargoes, many looking specifically for marine diesel and gas oil to steal and then sell.”

The IMB believes there is a danger that hijackings are becoming increasingly violent. Southeast Asia’s ship robbers tend to be opportunistic and armed with knives or machetes, whereas the heavily armed gangs of the Niger Delta execute well-planned and often violent attacks, usually to steal oil cargoes. In these cases, vessels can remain under the control of the gangs for several days and injuries to crews are all the more likely. All waters in Nigeria remain risky, the IMB warned.—IHS Maritime

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