Co-operation approach makes high-seas hijackings harder

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 August, 2000, 12:00am

Greater involvement of Asian governments in combatting piracy is making it harder for pirates to hijack a ship and dispose of its cargo.

Hong Kong Shipowners' Association director Arthur Bowring said governments on the mainland, Indonesia and Japan now had piracy firmly on their agendas and were working closely to tackle the problem.

'The Japanese Government has set up a direct communication system with coast guards of individual countries through the International Maritime Bureau [IMB] to tackle piracy, instead of going through the usual diplomatic channels between governments that usually took a long time,' he said.

There was a huge public outcry when the Japanese tanker Global Mars became the third serious hijacking involving Japanese-owned ships. It followed attacks on cargo ships Alondra Rainbow and Tenyu after they left the Indonesian port of Kuala Tanjong in October last year and September 1998 respectively.

The Global Mars was attacked by 20 pirates armed with automatic rifles on February 24, two days after leaving Port Klang in Malaysia with a cargo of 6,000 tonnes of palm oil products. Eight of the pirates took control of the tanker while the remaining 12 transferred the crew to a large fishing boat where they were blindfolded and held hostage for 13 days.

Mr Bowring said the Global Mars was spotted near Hong Kong and the authorities were alerted. A number of planes were launched to search for the vessel and when it was spotted in mainland waters, the Beijing authorities were notified, resulting in the arrest of the vessel. The ship has since been returned to its owner with some of the cargo still on board.

The Alondra Rainbow was also similarly recovered by Indian authorities last year.

'This sort of co-operation [between different jurisdictions] is going to happen more and more in the future,' Mr Bowring said.

The cases were significant as they showed that the idea of hijacking a ship and disposing of its stolen cargo was not going to be as easy as before due to the involvement of various governments.

Earlier, the Beijing authorities came under harsh international criticism for releasing 16 suspected Indonesian pirates after the Tenyu was found operating in a southern mainland port under the name Sanei 1 at the end of 1998.

However, since then the authorities have taken a tough stand against pirates found on board ships hijacked in Southeast Asia and then trading as 'phantom ships' in southern mainland ports.

Earlier this year, the mainland executed 13 pirates for hijacking the Hong Kong-owned Cheung Son and clubbing 23 seamen to death - the country's biggest piracy case in 50 years. It has also sentenced a Myanmar pirate to death and jailed 13 for hijacking the Taiwanese cargo ship Marine Master in March last year.

Southeast Asia was the scene of more than half of the 285 piracy cases reported worldwide last year. It was also the site of 158 of the attacks, up from 99 the year before.

According to the IMB, piracy attacks worldwide rose an alarming 40 per cent in the first six months of this year. Of the 161 attacks reported in the period, about 56 took place off Indonesia. In addition, 18 attacks took place off Bangladesh and a further 14 apiece in both Indian waters and the Straits of Malacca.

'Ships calling at the Indonesian ports of Belawan, Jakarta, Merak, Samarinda and Tanjung Priok have reported numerous pirate attacks while at anchor and at berth,' the IMB said, adding during the past two months, there had been an increase in attacks in the Straits of Malacca.

Both the Malaysian and Indonesian authorities have been notified of the problem and reportedly increased patrols along the waterway.