Maritime Security History of Piracy in Southeast Asia

A Thai Tanker Robbery Suggests the return of Organised Crime in the region. The attack on a Thai Tanker shows signs of having been a highly-organised and carefully planned operation. This article gives you some very useful information of the history of sea Piracy in the southeast Asian region of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

Similar style attacks were seen in the latter part of 2015, where a large number of similar-style hijackings occurred some years ago, with a total of 53 tanker hijackings reported between March 2012 and August 2015. The number of attacks fell sharply, however, in the latter part of 2015, in line with a sharp fall in commodity prices.

The first report to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB, which is a division of the International Chamber of Commerce that deals with criminal activity at sea) of a hijacking for product theft in the same region occurred in the Malacca Strait in February 2000. The vessel was en-route from Port Klang on the western coast of Malaysia to India, laden with palm oil, when it was hijacked. The vessel was renamed and later found off the Chinese coast in May 2000. The cargo was believed to have been sold to Chinese buyers.

Historically, piracy attacks in the region at that time showed a distinct pattern. The pirates were well armed, operating sophisticated weapons and utilised high-speed boats. They conducted the operation almost with military precision and seemed to know the ship’s systems and procedures. Instead of just ransacking the ship for valuables, they took command of the ship and took it to a location where the product was transferred to another vessel. In several cases, ship captains, crew and shipping company staff were later found to be complicit in the planning of the crimes, indicating a very sophisticated, well-planned and carefully-prepared criminal operation, all of which is an expensive overhead that had to be funded by the criminal networks.

Many people credit the lack of similar criminal activity in recent years to more effective policing and patrolling by the Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian governments, but it is perhaps more likely that the drop in such activities was due to reduced commodity prices, resulting in the criminal operation no longer being cost-effective.

So why have we now seen a similar-style attack in the region after such a long hiatus? The answer, perhaps is in the increase in commodity prices in the past 18 months. For example, the price of Marine Gas Oil (MGO) in the region has risen from about USD $290/Metric Tonne in Feb 2016 to the current price of about USD $450/Metric Tonne. That is a massive increase over the period and presents a much higher profit-margin to the criminal organisations who have lain dormant for some time.

The consequence is that perhaps we will see more similar-style criminal activity in the region, which will require increased policing levels by the surrounding nations (an extremely difficult task over such a vast region), or the use of commercially supplied embarked security teams.