The following is an extract taken from our Quarterly Piracy Assessment which is available for purchase. Contact our team for further details.
NYA recorded 18 maritime security incidents in Southeast Asia in Q3 2018, in line with the previous two reporting periods. Criminal boardings have made up the majority of recorded incidents.
In Q3 2018 NYA recorded 18 maritime security incidents in Southeast Asia, a marginal decrease from Q2 2018 (21 incidents). This remains moderately lower than Q4 2017 when 27 incidents were recorded in the region. Of the incidents recorded in Q3 2018, the vast majority were criminal boardings (14), with one suspicious approach, one boarding and two hijackings also recorded. The reporting period witnessed three significant incidents including one hijacking in the Malacca Strait as well as a hijacking and a boarding off the coast of the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE) suggesting that piracy incidents are likely to develop in the Sulu / Celebs Seas.
PIRATE OPERATIONAL CAPABILITIES
Criminal boardings have made up the majority of recorded incidents during the reporting period, representing 83% of total incidents. During the reporting period, 13 criminal boardings were reported, the majority of which targeted anchored tankers and bulk carriers. None of the reported criminal boardings witnessed perpetrators engaging in violence against crewmembers and in only four cases were pirates reportedly armed with knives and guns. In each case, when crewmembers noticed the presence of pirates on board, the assailants managed to escape. This behaviour, combined with the general absence of weapons, suggests that perpetrators are mainly low-level criminals with limited operational capability. However, these criminals are likely to continue targeting anchored vessels in order to steal crewmembers’ personal belongings, engine parts or vessel’s stores.
However, two criminal boardings were also reported in Batangas Anchorage and the Insular Oil Terminal of Davao City in the Philippines. This does not represent a significant change as two criminal boardings have already taken place on 14 September 2017 and 6 November 2016.
One criminal boarding was also reported on 4 August 15NM of the coast of Bintulu, Malaysia. Five Indonesian pirates armed with knives and guns boarded an oil tanker underway and stole crewmembers’ personal belongings before escaping. While this incident indicates that Indonesian pirates can carry out operations more than 250NM from Indonesian territory, the lack of recent piracy incidents in this area – the latest ones being two hijackings on 2 June 2016 and 25 October 2016 – suggests that this incident along the coast of the state of Saravak, Malaysia, is unusual. Further incidents of this type are thus likely to remain infrequent.
The occurrence of two hijackings during the reporting period marks a significant departure from the two- year absence of hijack incidents (2016 – 2017) in the Malacca Strait. On 18 August 12 Thai nationals boarded two Malaysian fishing vessels 3NM east of Langkawi in the Malacca Strait. The perpetrators, onboard two speedboats and armed with guns, robbed the 11 crewmembers and detained them. Malaysian police forces intercepted one speedboat with four of the perpetrators and freed seven Malaysian fishermen on 19 August, while the other four Malaysian victims onboard another speedboat were brought to Satun province, Thailand, and released on 20 August. The second hijack incident on 11 September also included armed perpetrators. While Thai and Malaysian media outlets have provided contradicting details regarding the number of victims and targeted vessels, this hijacking indicates that this type of incident is likely to continue occurring in the Malacca Strait.
The second hijack occurred in an area familiar with significant incidents, largely due to the presence of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) Islamist militants. On 11 September two men, allegedly ASG militants, armed with M16 rifles boarded a fishing trawler 8NM northeast of Timbun Mata, Malaysia, and abducted two crewmembers before transporting them on a speedboat towards Tawi-Tawi, Philippines. This incident, combined with the boarding on 10 August of a Malaysian tug boat by 10 individuals 1NM north of Tambisan Island, indicates that insecurity off the coast of the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE) is increasing. Local media sources have speculated that a criminal group may have perpetrated this hijacking as opposed to ASG, increasing the threat level along the coast of Sabah, Malaysia, particularly to small vessels transiting near the coast.
ABU SAYYAF ACTIVITY
The aforementioned hijack on 11 September, potentially linked to ASG, may indicate the group is regaining strength in the area, and corroborates warnings issued by the Philippines’ Intelligence on 19 July, 11 August and 23 September stating that ASG was planning to conduct kidnappings off Gulisan Island, Malaysia, and in Palawan, Philippines.
The heightened security threat level in the Sulu Archipelago is likely to remain elevated in the short to medium term, particularly as a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack in Lamitan City, Philippines on 31 July, indicates a growing tactical sophistication of militant groups in the region. This suicide attack, allegedly carried out by ASG, marked the first use of suicide tactics by militant groups since 2002. Although the Philippines frequently experience terrorist incidents, suicide attacks are a rarity and might indicate the presence of IS influence, which has been growing since 2014. In addition, several clashes between ASG militants and the Philippines army in Jolo and Basilan, indicate that the situation is likely to remain precarious particularly in those areas.
On 27 July, the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte invited the ASG to negotiate with the government to restore peace, departing from the position previously held by the government which refused to negotiate with terrorists. Yet, the ASG’s lack of centralised leadership implies that such negotiations would be difficult to pursue. Additionally, the fact that President Duterte told Filipino soldiers on 26 August to “destroy and kill” individuals linked to IS or Al-Qaida suggests that this proposal was short-lived.
REGIONAL COOPERATION TO COMBAT PIRACY
Between 27 August and 7 September, the US Navy led the 17th annual edition of the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) involving Singapore, Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The two-week exercise consisted of workshops on the new information-sharing tools and 15 scenario-based boarding operations in the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait.
During the reporting period, several joint maritime exercises also took place. The ASEAN-China maritime exercise on 3 August focused on how to respond effectively to maritime incidents. Additionally, Australia and the Philippines participated in a series of maritime exercises between 16 and 25 July near Palawan, Philippines, which focused on maritime surveillance and how to prevent kidnappings from occurring. The threat of kidnapping remains a concern in the area and Filipino authorities have regularly warned tourists of the risks posed by Abu Sayyaf, particularly in Palawan. According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), a total of nine kidnapped crewmembers still remain in captivity as of 31 July 2018.
Criminal boardings are highly likely to remain the most common threat in the region, in line with previous reporting periods. Considering historical trends, further criminal boarding incidents are likely to remain concentrated in the Singapore Strait, Sunda Strait and Muara Berau Anchorage. The hijacking of two fishing vessels on 18 August in the Malacca Strait, marks a continued trend of sporadic hijackings and such incidents are likely in the medium term, with perpetrators likely to prioritise targeting small vessels.
Although no significant maritime incidents recorded during this reporting period can be directly attributed to ASG, the occurrence of an SVBIED attack in Busilan on 31 July may suggest that the group has begun to re-establish its capabilities following its expulsion from Marawi in October 2017. The issuance of repeated warnings of potential kidnapping operations by the ASG in Gulisan and Palawan indicates that the group remains present in the area and will continue to threaten shipping in the short to medium term.
*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from NYA authored by Alison Burrell. Read the original post at: https://nyarisk.com/2018/10/08/global-piracy-report-q3/