Piracy on the rise in South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am

The South China Sea is becoming a piracy hotspot with an increase in the number of attacks, two anti-piracy bodies said yesterday.

The level of violence is also escalating in Asian waters, one of the regional piracy watchdogs said.

But unlike the situation in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, pirates in the South China Sea are focused on stealing cash and property from ships rather than hijacking the ships and crews for ransom.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said the number of attacks had tripled to 30 in the first nine months of this year, up from 10 in the same period last year.

The bureau, part of the International Chamber of Commerce, said in 21 of the 30 attacks pirates boarded vessels. Once on board, the pirates threaten the crew before escaping with supplies, cash and personal belongings.

Bureau director Captain Pottengal Mukundan said: 'The pirates in this area use almost identical methods of attack, suggesting a small number of groups is responsible. The fact vulnerable vessels are boarded by pirates whilst steaming is a matter of concern.'

The Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), a government-to-government information sharing body, said there were 24 incidents in the South China Sea, 32 in Indonesia, 14 in Malaysia and 10 in Vietnam.

The number of incidents in these areas were all up compared with last year, while the disparity between the International Maritime Bureau and ReCAAP piracy figures for the South China Sea was explained by the different definition of the area used by both groups.

Overall, there were 118 piracy and armed robbery incidents reported against ships in Asian waters between January and September against 74 in the same period last year, ReCAAP said. The Singapore-based organisation, whose 16 country members include China, Singapore and Japan, reported one incident in Dalian in northern China, the first since 2006.

ReCAAP said there was also increased use of guns, knives and machetes with 67 incidents in Asian waters in the first nine months involving some form of arms compared with 37 incidents last year.

Most of the incidents in the South China Sea occurred in the south, relatively close to Indonesia and Malaysia. They include attacks, or attempted attacks, on four ships registered in Hong Kong and one on the mainland. The most recent attack was on the oil tanker Yangtze Spring on August 30 near Pulau Mangkai when six pirates armed with guns and knives stole cash, cameras and clothing before fleeing.

This was followed two days later by an attack on the Celosia, another Hong Kong-flagged tanker, near Pulau Mangkai by four robbers who fled empty handed.

Nicholas Teo, deputy director of ReCAAP, said the area around Pulau Mangkai and Selat Berhala formed a natural funnel for vessels transiting between the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca. It also created a number of navigational challenges for ships' crews that pirates were willing to exploit, particularly at night when most attacks occurred. Shipowners and managers now arranged for ships to sail through the area in daylight if possible, Teo added.

He said the area had shallow water and, because it was the main transit corridor between east and west where large number of vessels converge, crews were often too focused on what was ahead. As a result, some failed to carry out all-round surveillance to watch for suspicious craft approaching their ship.

Worldwide, the IMB said there were 289 piracy and armed robbery attacks in the first nine months of this year with 39 ships hijacked.

Marine menace

South China Sea pirates focus on stealing cash and property

The number of attacks in the South China Sea tripled in the first nine months of this year to: 30