On 24 April 2018 NYA MarTrack™ recorded an attack in the Malacca Strait for the first time since December 2015. Pirates armed with machetes and firearms attempted to rob and kidnap the crew of a Malaysian-flagged B fishing vessel near Batu Bahat, Johor, Malaysia. The perpetrators used a wooden boat and ordered the fishing vessel into Indonesian waters under threat of violence. The assailants reportedly demanded a ransom sum of USD7,658 from the crew before Indonesian authorities assisted in their release.
The Strait of Malacca is historically well known for the threat of piracy as perpetrators have taken advantage of the restrictive geography and heavy cargo traffic to target vessels. An increase in piracy through the early 2000s drew attention to the area, mainly because the strait is of vital importance for international commerce similar to the Suez and Panama canals. Widely reported piracy incidents, combined with the 2005 addition of the strait to the Joint War Committee’s listed areas where additional war risk premiums are charged, eventually compelled the coastal states of the Malacca Strait to act.
MULTILATERAL COOPERATION BY LITTORAL STATES
In 2006, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore set up the Malacca Strait Sea Patrols (MSSP), under the oversight of a Joint Coordinating Committee, to conduct coordinated surveillance in their respective waters and communicate on the movement of suspicious vessels. These sea patrols were later joined by “Eye in the Sky” air patrols which monitored vessel movement in the straits of Malacca and Singapore. In addition, an Intelligence Exchange Group was established to support information-sharing between the countries involved and Thailand also joined in 2008.
Despite multilateral cooperation, NYA MarTrack statistics indicate that enhanced surveillance and information sharing were only a baseline measure required to address the piracy threat. An annual average of 22 piracy incidents recorded by MarTrack in the Malacca Strait from 2012 to 2015 (including six hijackings in 2015) indicates that a piracy threat remained in the area nine years after the establishment of the MSSP. During the 2016 to 2018 period, however, only an annual average of eight incidents were recorded and just two have been to date in 2018.
CONSISTENT ACTION REQUIRED TO ADDRESS PIRACY
The significant decrease in activity within the Malacca Strait post-2015 coincided with more assertive, unilateral anti-piracy measures taken by littoral states and demonstrates the need for actors to implement a range of initiatives to combat what is an ever changing and evolving threat. Quick reaction teams are likely to have been one of the most effective contributing factors. Following the 2015 deployment of rapid reaction teams by Malaysia and Indonesia to combat piracy in the Malacca and Singapore straits, the arrest of multiple piracy cells were reported.
Response units of the Indonesian Navy have had particular success with the 2 October 2017 arrest of 15 suspected pirates in the Singapore Strait coming after the 26 December 2016 arrest of six further suspects targeting merchant vessels in the Malacca Strait. The latter operation was particularly noteworthy as it involved three individuals with a prior record of engaging in piracy activity. Similar operations are likely to remain crucial in supporting the MSSP and its associated initiatives as a lack of funding is often cited to be preventing littoral states from carrying out joint surveillance effectively.
AN EFFECTIVE ANTI-PIRACY MODEL?
The joint employment of unilateral and multilateral operations is highly likely to be behind the decrease in piracy activity within the Malacca Strait to the levels seen today, however, reproducing this model in other global locations is not guaranteed to prove as effective. Multiple factors played a part in the success of the initial surveillance coordination that included the strait’s geography (the strait is relatively narrow – 250km at its widest point) and the dedication of partnering countries.
Whilst the Malacca Strait has seen a decrease in incidents both offshore and at local ports, piracy groups active in the Malay Peninsula, Malaysia, and Sumatra, Indonesia, shall continue to infrequently target merchant vessels. NYA’s trusted network of information sources in combination with our MarTrack vessel tracking software ensures that clients are informed of piracy incidents in the strait, Southeast Asia and globally. NYA24 in London constantly monitors for maritime security incidents and sends immediate alerts to clients once information has been verified. Clients’ vessels can also be directly contacted to ensure they are aware of recent attacks and take necessary precautions.