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20 June 2005

Pirates pieces of 8 aaaargh 16 men on a dead man's chest yo ho ho & a bottle of rum this parrot pooped on my shoulder aaaargh


Free Flow:
Pirates return to Asian seas

By Donald Greenlees International Herald Tribune

SINGAPORE -- For two months after the Dec. 26 tsunami wreaked havoc along the coastlines of southern Asia and Africa, another peril of the seas vanished.

Pirates who make the waters from the Strait of Malacca to the South China Sea the most dangerous in the world for sailors to navigate were mysteriously absent.

Before the tsunami struck, the International Maritime Board's Piracy Reporting Center estimated that 42 percent of piracy attacks occurred in Southeast Asia and the Far East; 20 percent occurred in the waters around the Indian subcontinent.

The disappearance of the pirates from the Strait of Malacca prompted some maritime analysts to conclude that the tsunami might also have dealt a fatal blow to the pirates.

"We were speculating that the pirates were flushed out to sea or killed," said Daniel Tan, executive director of the Singapore Shipping Association, which represents ship owners.

But on Feb. 28, the pirates made their return. A tug towing a coal barge was attacked off the Malaysian port of Penang. The captain and chief officer were taken hostage.

This first attack of 2005 presaged a pattern. In the following two weeks, two other attacks were reported in which crew members were taken hostage. On March 12, the captain and engineer of an oil tanker were kidnapped in Indonesian waters and, on March 14, one Filipino and two Japanese crew members of a tug boat were dragged away by armed pirates southwest of Penang in the Strait.

The respite from piracy appeared to be over, and the explanation for why the pirates had vanished for two months was becoming clear.

"After the tsunami there was a large naval presence around that area," said Noel Choong, who heads the Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur. "Once they left it created a vacuum and the pirates started to attack again."

The resurgence of incidents of piracy has highlighted the gaps in maritime security in some of the most strategically and economically vital waterways in the world.

Much of North Asia's energy supplies pass through these waters. The value of the passage to container cargo is illustrated by the growing importance of the port of Singapore, which is overtaking Hong Kong in terms of its container throughput.

Most of the danger to vessels is in territorial waters that are guarded by the poorly financed navies of countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. For a brief period after the tsunami, maritime analysts said they though the increase in foreign naval activity in the region was an effective deterrent.

Choong says the value of a strong naval presence is reinforced by the regional response to the March 14 attack on the Japanese-owned tug Idaten and the construction barge Kuroshio I. The kidnapping of the two Japanese crew members played heavily in the Japanese news media and elevated the importance of piracy on Tokyo's diplomatic agenda.

The two crew members were held hostage for two weeks while negotiations took place over a ransom demand of several hundred thousand dollars. The hostages were eventually released in southern Thailand after being hidden in the jungle.

Officially, no money was paid for their release, but a ransom was handed over, said one industry insider with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity. In the aftermath of this case, Malaysian and Indonesian Navy patrols were stepped up in response to diplomatic pressure from Japan.

According to Choong, the increased intensity of patrols is again having an effect. "How long this will go on we don't know," he said. "Once it stops, the attacks could come back. We have to look at a longer time span."

It is a complaint echoed by ship owners, who have watched a marked increase in piracy incidents in recent years, while governments have been reluctant to permit international patrols in territorial waters.

The International Maritime Bureau, an arm of the International Chamber of Commerce, reported an average of 233 attacks a year worldwide from 1995 to 1999.

But from 2000 to 2003. the average was 405 incidents a year.

Seeking to improve the regional response, Japan has tried to push through a regional antipiracy agreement. But sensitivity about control of territorial waters might reduce the initiative to purely information sharing.

The industry is clear on what it wants.

"One incident is one incident too many," said Tan of the Singapore Shipping Association. "We want regional governments to implement effective patrols to make sure of the safety of ships cruising through the Malacca and Singapore Straits."

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Donald Greenlees can be reached at

Copyright © 2005 the International Herald Tribune All rights reserved


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