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Surge in Piracy Incidents in Asian Seas Requires New Solution

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) reported a sharp increase in the number of incidents from this past quarter (January-March 2015) in relation to the same time period in 2013 where there were 29 incidents reported; 38 have already been reported for Q1 2015.

When compared with the same period from 2014, the amount of incidents has doubled in the precarious Southeast Asian waters of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore as well as at some ports in Vietnam. The piracy attack on a Malaysian oil tanker on May 15 elevated security concerns for ships at sea or docked in this region has, leaving an urgent need to enhance vigilant security measures.

Oiental Glory, a 3,000dwt oil tanker was en-route to Tanjung Manis in the South China Sea when its course was averted by a group of 30 pirates in six small crafts who then proceeded to board the vessel, rob the crew of their personal effects and siphon 2,500 tons of bunker fuel.

This marks the seventh incident this year of fuel siphoning in Asia, a serious concern for authorities as this is a highly involved process that if performed by untrained individuals using the wrong equipment, can result in environmental disasters, fire or explosion. While all crewmembers onboard were unharmed, the increased incidents in this very busy and important shipping route has reinforced that while piracy has been contained in some areas, it is still very much alive in others.

Every year ports and merchant ships are preferred targets for pirates because of their economic importance and vulnerability both at sea and docked due to the difficulty in securing vast, open waters and coastlines. While some strides have been made in legislation for the protection of ports and waterways, they remain largely exposed to dangerous threats.

Traditional security measures such as radars are not always effective in combatting against piracy as they are often unable to detect the smaller, wooden boats that are commonly used. A solution that is able to stand up in the corrosive and harsh environment of the sea that can detect rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs), swimmers, and wooden boats would be the most viable tool for anti-piracy counter-measures.

HGH Infrared Systems’ Spynel panoramic infrared thermal imaging system is one such solution that is suitable for both port surveillance and self-protection of ships against anti-piracy. The Spynel sensors are capable of providing a wide 360° field of view with very high resolution and up to 15 km detection range for RHIBs. The proprietary built-in software, Cyclope, automatically performs detection and tracking of an unlimited number of threats while advanced algorithms with built-in sea-specific image processing allows for a low false alarm rate and differentiation between distant small boats, waves and maritime wildlife.

With an autonomous gyro-stabilized platform, the Spynel cameras can operate at sea state level 5/6-rough to very rough seas.

The Spynel systems provide maritime surveillance for a critical shipping port in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa as well as on French Navy frigates deployed in the Gulf of Aden. Spynel can also be integrated with AIS and radar systems in place.

The Oriental Glory incident is not isolated, prompting the Safe Navigation and Environment Committee of the Asian Shipowners’ Forum (ASF) to express concern on the increasing number of piracy incidents in Asian waters over the past four years.

The ASF committee is also concerned that the surge in the number of incidents could result in a situation where vested commercial interests use alarmist press reports to depict scenarios where vessels transiting the Straits of Malacca and Singapore are forced to pay additional premiums.

With zero piracy incidents reported in the former stronghold off the coast of Somalia in the first quarter of 2015, counter-piracy efforts are refocusing on Asia. As detailed in the upcoming issue of Homeland Security Today, most incidents in South East Asia over the past year have been carried out by armed gangs targeting small coastal tankers to steal their cargoes of fuel.

“The frequency of these hijackings in South East Asia is an increasing cause for concern. There’s a risk that the attacks and violence could increase if left unabated,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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