Piracy and armed robbery against ships double this year
16 incidents reported in Singapore Strait from January to last month, compared with eight last year
The coronavirus pandemic is not keeping pirates at bay.
In its half-yearly report released yesterday, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) revealed some disturbing numbers.
The number of incidents reported in the Singapore Strait from January this year to last month doubled to 16, compared with eight incidents during the same period last year.
The trend follows that of incidents in the wider Asia region, which saw a total of 51 incidents compared with just 28 during the same period last year.
Speaking to the media during an online briefing yesterday, Mr Masafumi Kuroki, executive director of ReCAAP ISC, said: "We are deeply concerned with the nearly two-fold increase in the number of incidents reported in Asia in the first half of 2020 compared (with) the same period last year, even though most of them are at low severity level."
He added that such relatively small crimes, if not addressed, can embolden criminals to commit more serious acts.
In most of the incidents in the Singapore Strait, the perpetrators were unarmed and stole only scrap metal and spare parts without hurting crew members.
But the situation in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and the waters off eastern Sabah was more violent.
There have been 86 crew members abducted there since March 2016, including 10 who were either killed or have died.
Five crew members were abducted from a fishing trawler in the waters there on Jan 17. They remain in captivity.
Members of the Abu Sayyaf Group, a known terrorist organisation, have been planning kidnappings in the area, targeting ships passing through the waterways there.
The number of incidents reported in Asia saw a high of 203 in 2015, but dropped to a low of 76 by 2018.
Last year saw a slight increase to 83 reported incidents.
Mr Kuroki noted the uptick in piracy and armed robbery incidents comes at a time when the world is struggling with the pandemic, but said it was difficult to draw a link between the two.
He said: "We cannot make casual relations between the pandemic and the increase in incidents. I don't think there is a clear relation to Covid-19 because the increase started even before the pandemic."
He added that cooperation among stakeholders was essential in tackling piracy.
"Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, we encourage the shipping community and maritime enforcement agencies to uphold vigilance, make timely reporting and conduct quick response to incidents in order to protect the lives of seafarers and the safety of maritime transport."