The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) released its Annual Report on January 15.
There was a total of 76 incidents of piracy and armed robbery reported in Asia between January to December 2018, comprising 62 actual incidents and 14 attempted incidents. This represents a decrease of 25% in the total number of incidents and a 31% decrease in actual incidents compared to 2017. This marks the lowest number of incidents since ReCAAP ISC began keeping records in 2007.
Of the 76 incidents, four were incidents of piracy, while 72 were armed robbery against ships. There was improvement at some ports and anchorages in 2018, particularly at the Manila anchorage in the Philippines. Successful arrests of perpetrators were reported in 2018 in Bangladesh (Chittagong), India (off Alang, Gujarat), Philippines (Manila), Indonesia (Pulau Batam), Malaysia (Pulau Tinggi, Sarawak, and off Tambisan, Sabah).
There were more than ten incidents at ports and anchorages in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and in Samarinda, Indonesia. There were also slight increases reported in Malaysia and Vietnam. Despite the decrease in the number of incidents in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah, ReCAAP ISC says the abduction of crew for ransom remains a serious threat in the area.
The report notes that the majority of incidents over the last 12 years involved 4-6 perpetrators (34%) or 1-3 perpetrators (24%). The most commonly used weapons were knives/machetes/others (such as rods). There was no evidence to suggest that certain types of ships were targeted, but 63% of incidents occurred on board either tankers or bulk carriers. Most of the incidents occurred during hours of darkness with 60% of incidents occurred between 0000-0600 hours and 20% between 1900-2400 hours.
“While ReCAAP ISC welcomes the recent downward trend in the number of incidents of piracy and sea robbery in Asia, we urge the law enforcement/regulatory authorities and shipping industry to continue the vigilance and cooperation that has led to the decrease,” said Masafumi Kuroki, Executive Director of ReCAAP ISC.
“In Asia, more than 90% of the incidents are armed robbery against ships, which occur in territorial waters of the Coastal States. Therefore, the ownership and efforts of the Coastal States in deterring, detecting, and apprehending perpetrators is vital in reducing the number of incidents in Asia, as are the vigilance and preventive measures by ships,” concluded Kuroki.
Piracy trends are difficult to predict and ebb and flow as much as the seas they take place on. In the case of the Gulf of Aden, there were very clear, targeted actions that saw the glamor and attraction of piracy diminish as those at risk of entering the “trade” were instead encouraged to pursue training, education and apprenticeships. Indeed it was the lack of such opportunities that drove the rise in piracy in the region in the first place.
In Asia, it’s much more of a mixed bag, not least because a number of cultures and countries are included. While Aden and other regions were reporting declining maritime piracy a few years ago, Asia witnessed a surge. This was largely due to a shortage of and battles over fish stocks, leaving the fisherman with few options to support their families. Last year, some analysts including those at the United Nations even predicted the region could have a complete absence of commercial fish stocks by 2048.
However, action by the Indonesian government, including sinking ships illegally fishing in its waters, has improved the fish stock situation enabling many fishermen-turned-pirates to return to their original profession. This, coupled with increased vigilance in ports has played a part in the decline in regional maritime piracy. Piracy can also be generational. Just as kids are not keen to take on their parents’ fishing business, so they might shun piracy as a “career”. Fishing, and even more so piracy, are hard work and bring great risks – making education or alternative criminal streams like hacking more attractive to those who have the inclination and opportunity.
Read our report on trends in global maritime piracy here.