Threat of criminal boardings in Southeast Asia still ongoing

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NYA MarTrackTM records from 2013-2017 indicate that Southeast Asia has consistently witnessed the highest number of criminal boarding piracy incidents worldwide. During this period, more than 50% of all globally recorded criminal boardings targeted vessels transiting in the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. As shall be illustrated, Southeast Asia, more so than other high risk maritime areas, is susceptible to this specific piracy incident type on account of such factors as the region’s complex geography and socio-economic conditions.

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Graph: Number of criminal boardings recorded per year and by region
Source: NYA MarTrack


A criminal boarding is defined by NYA as the boarding of a vessel by a perpetrator(s) with criminal intent. In Southeast Asia, this predominantly involves the opportunistic theft of vessel and crewmember property. Whilst the threat of criminal boarding exists throughout Southeast Asia, they are largely concentrated in the Singapore Strait as well as major ports and anchorages on Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Luzon islands.

Criminal boardings often follow a similar modus operandi involving a group of between two to five thieves boarding a commercial vessel, often via the anchor chair or the poop deck. The majority of incidents in the past five years have occurred when a vessel was at anchor and bulk carriers, tankers, containers or cargo vessels have often been targeted. Although incidents are rarely violent and suspects frequently choose to flee upon detection, perpetrators have been known to arm themselves with knives or metal rods.

Map: Areas of recorded criminal boardings (2015 – 2017)
Source: NYA / eSpatial


 NYA has identified four contributing factors influencing the prevalence of criminal boardings in Southeast Asia. First of all, Southeast Asia – specifically the Singapore and Malacca straits – is one of the busiest marine traffic routes in the world and there are subsequently a number of vessels for pirates to target. Almost 100,000 vessels transit the region each year, accounting for approximately one quarter of all global trade. Secondly, the primary shipping lanes in the region are narrow and surrounded by a large number of small islands. These areas offer pirates an ideal hiding place and base from which to operate.

Thirdly, shipping routes in Southeast Asia transit through the territorial waters of several different littoral states and often pass rural areas with weak rule of law. This renders cooperation between different jurisdictions and their security forces more difficult and reduces overall effectiveness. Lastly, poverty, inequality and corruption – root causes of piracy seen in other high threat piracy areas – are apparent throughout the region. Indeed, corruption charges brought against the former deputy chairman of the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency during 2017 and several senior Philippine Coast Guard personnel in 2018 highlight just one of the challenges facing regional counter-piracy efforts.


To date in 2018, a total of 30 criminal boardings have been recorded on NYA MarTrack in Southeast Asia. This figure is only a marginal decrease on the 36 incidents seen over the same period in 2017. Whilst the initiation of multilateral patrols as well as ongoing unilateral efforts, including the formation of quick reaction teams, shall ensure criminal boardings do not return to 2015 levels, many of the factors explaining the high levels of criminal boardings in Southeast Asia endure and shall help to perpetuate this form of piracy.

NYA can offer bespoke route and port threat assessments, 24/7 tracking support to vessels transiting the region and regular reports on the threat of piracy in Southeast Asia to ensure that our clients can have peace of mind when operating in high-risk areas. Contact our team to request a sample report: [email protected]

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*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from NYA authored by Octavia Chivers. Read the original post at: