The hijack of Singaporean-flagged oil tanker Joaquim took place on August 8. The ship was the fourth vessel in eighteen months stolen specifically to siphon fuel from its bunkers. About 3,000 tonnes of fuel oil was taken, before the pirated tanker, drifting with its power cut after fuel had been transferred, was retaken by Malaysian authorities 14 nautical miles off Tanjung Kling.
Risk of hijack has increased for ships transiting the Malaysian Peninsula and Malacca Strait – the crowded shipping corridor between the Indian and Pacific oceans – upon which Singapore’s trading prosperity relies.
There was a 118% surge in instances of boarding and robbing vessels transiting the narrow waters off Singapore in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year. There were 48 vessels reporting incidents in the first six months of the year, according to maritime security services firm Dryad Maritime.
The firm noted a drop in hijack incidents in the anchorages to the east of the Singapore Strait, with five reported in the year’s first half, down from 18 in the same period of 2014. The robbery from vessels at anchor around Southeast Asia continues, noted Dryad, with Bangladesh and Vietnam seeing the most cases.
The busy waters off Singapore and Malaysia are vying with Africa’s Gulf of Guinea for the top ranking in piracy activity globally. However, whereas most maritime traffic in the Gulf of Guinea is restricted to coastal trade (and the supply of offshore oil platforms), as are the coastal waters of Bangladesh and Vietnam, the Malacca Strait is a much more vital strategic waterway for the global economy. Southeast Asia taken collectively had 120 piracy incidents in the first six months, versus 34 in the Gulf of Guinea.
What the piracy activity in both hotspots does share in common is the tendency to steal fuel oil. While violence is common, kidnapping of crew for negotiated ransom is not a focus, a radically different strategy from the kidnap and ransom (K&R) focused model pursued by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, until their activities were effectively suppressed since 2013.
“The nature of these incidents within the Malacca Strait is very similar and mirrors those in the South China Sea which have been occurring at regular intervals during the same time frame,” says Steve McKenzie a senior analyst at Dryad. “The last hijacking took place on June 11, when
Dryad reported a 22% increase in reported hijack incidents across Southeast Asia in the first six months of 2015 over the same period last year. The firm noted 120 instances of piracy and maritime crime had been reported to it. There have been 12 vessels hijacked during the first half of the year, an increase of three on the same period last year. Ten of these hijacks resulted in cargo theft, eight of which were successful. Tankers Sun Birdie and Orkim Harmony were both recovered with their fuel cargo intact.
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