Piracy alert over Indonesian waters
By NICHOLAS IONIDES
THE International Maritime Bureau has warned the Hong Kong shipping community about a marked increase in pirate attacks on cargo vessels in Indonesian waters.
Ten attacks took place between October 21 and December 6, seven of these occurring in the busy and narrow shipping lanes of the Gaspair Strait.
The ships were boarded and money stolen. Other items taken included navigation equipment and crew members' belongings. Crew members were held at gunpoint and tied up, the bureau reported.
Bureau regional investigator Joe Corless, who monitors Asian waters from Kuala Lumpur, said the increase in the number of attacks was in sharp contrast to the regional trend this year.
He said that easily more than 100 attacks were reported each year from 1990 to 1993. However, only 82 had been reported so far this year. Despite this healthy trend, it seems the reverse is happening in Indonesian waters, now considered a hot spot.
'It is of extreme concern because it represents a blip in the statistics of piracy for 1994,' Mr Corless said yesterday, warning the shipping community of possible dangers in that area.
'There has been a startling rise in Indonesia and it is our biggest concern of anywhere in the region. We will be pressuring the Government there to do something about it.' Victims of the pirate attacks include ships registered in the Bahamas, Greece, Liberia, Panama, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Singapore.
Although no Hong Kong-registered vessels had been targets, Mr Corless said 'anybody can be a victim' because the geography of the Gaspair Strait made piracy easier.
'It gets a huge amount of traffic from Jakarta to Singapore and, because it is a narrow channel, the vessels have to slow down to navigate, meaning their chances to escape a boarding are slim,' he said.
'There are a lot of islands which make great hiding places . . . and these guys are not small-time - they use rocket-launchers and machine-guns. They are extremely dangerous.' Director of the Hong Kong Shipowners' Association Michael Farlie said he was not alarmed.
'Even at the height of the piracy problems in 1991 and 1992, the real percentages only represented less than one per cent of all shipping,' Mr Farlie said.
'And in this case it's only a handful of ships. So unless it becomes really rampant, people tend to take it as a hazard of the trade.' Fourteen vessels were attacked by pirates this year in the South China Sea between Hong Kong, Luzon in the Philippines, and Hainan Island.