Asian Insider Dec 26: Pirates struck at Singapore Strait, Typhoon Phanfone causes havoc in the Philippines, baby blues in Japan

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

Happy Boxing Day,

In today's bulletin: Singapore Strait has seen some 30 cases of piracy this year, with the latest occurring on Christmas day; popular tourist areas in central Philippines were wrecked when Typhoon Phanfone tore roofs off houses and claiming at least 16 lives in its wake; how an unusual date between the sun and the moon wowed millions in Asia plus baby blues in Japan.

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PIRATES AT SINGAPORE STRAIT

A tanker in the Singapore Strait was boarded by pirates on Christmas Day (Dec 25), just two days after a couple of piracy attempts in the strait were thwarted. This brings the total number of recorded piracy incidents so far this year in the Singapore Strait to 30. Of these, 15 incidents involved ships in the westbound lane of the Singapore Strait and 15 in the eastbound lane of the strait. While the pirates in the latest incident escaped empty-handed after being chased by the crew, there is a concern that they will strike again.

See also:

Two piracy attempts at Singapore Strait on Dec 23

Theft of cargo from barges at five-year high at Singapore Strait

AT LEAST 16 DIE IN THE PHILIPPINES' TYPHOON

Typhoon Phanfone killed at least 16 people in the Visayas island in the central Philippines before heading out to the sea. Locally called Ursula, Phanfone unleashed destructive winds and heavy rains that inundated swathes of agricultural and residential areas, authorities said. Thousands of travelers had holiday plans disrupted while hundreds of residents spent Christmas in evacuation centers in Asia's largest Catholic country. Phanfone also hit Boracay, Coron and other holiday destinations that are famed for their white-sand beaches and popular with foreign tourists. The airport at Kalibo, which services Boracay, was badly damaged.

Read the full story: Miserable Christmas Day: Typhoon Phanfone kills at least 16 in Philippines

ONCE IN A LIFE-TIME ECLIPSE

Skywatchers from Saudi Arabia and Oman to India and Singapore were treated to a rare "ring of fire" solar eclipse on Thursday (Dec 26). Annular eclipses occur when the Moon is not close enough to the Earth to completely obscure the Sun, leaving a thin ring of the solar disc visible. While these types of eclipses occur every year or two, they are visible only from a narrow band of Earth each time and it can be decades before the same pattern is repeated. The rare astronomical sight was visible in the Singapore sky on Thursday for the first time in two decades, and will next appear in 2063. The next annular eclipse in June 2020 will be visible to a narrow band from Africa to northern Asia. The following one in June 2021 will be seen only in the Arctic and parts of Canada, Greenland and the remote Russian Far East.

For those who have missed it, check out the interactive gallery from The Straits Times

FEWER BABIES IN JAPAN

In his latest report from Tokyo, our Japan Correspondent Walter Sim highlighted a worrying trend that added to the woes of Japan's ageing population: fewer babies. The number of births in Japan this year is forecast to plunge drastically by nearly 6 per cent to 864,000, falling under the 900,000 mark for the first time since record-keeping began in 1899. The woeful Health Ministry data, released on Tuesday (Dec 24), paints an insurmountable picture of the country's demographic challenges despite the government's efforts to encourage more births.

See also:

Lack of childcare and workplace support discouraged couples from having babies

Akita Prefecture provides a glimpse to Japan's greying future

WHEN CHILDREN CHOOSE THEIR SPONSORS

Our Philippines Correspondent Raul Dancel has a heart-warming story on how the unfortunate kids in Manila can choose their own sponsors. World Vision has dubbed this role-reversal Chosen. "Chosen puts the power to choose their sponsor in the hands of the child," said Mr Edgar Sandoval Sr., president of World Vision in the United States. The children are no longer passive recipients of aid. They are empowered. They start a relationship on their own terms. From "pick me", the children can now say, "I choose". That has led to a deeper bond between the sponsors and the children.

Read the full story: World Vision, the Christian charity group, flips sponsorship script; children now get to choose sponsors

IN OTHER NEWS

SINGAPORE: The country's manufacturing output fell sharply in November after the brief recovery in September and October, dragged down by electronics production. Factory output slid 9.3 per cent in November from a year ago, according to figures released by the Economic Development Board (EDB) on Thursday (Dec 26).

MALAYSIA: Call it a Christmas gift from the cops. Thousands of Malaysians queued up on Thursday (Dec 26) outside a key traffic police station in Kuala Lumpur to clear their summonses which are given 50 per cent discounts. Malaysian police, which periodically give steep discounts on tickets issued for offences such as speeding or beating a red light, this year picked Christmas Eve and Boxing Day as the days for people to pay up.

HONG KONG: The plan is to deter people from spending to revive the economy. So for the third straight day over the Christmas holidays, anti-government protestors turned up in force to target shopping malls. They spent much of Thursday (Dec 26) marching through multiple malls chanting anti-government and anti-police slogans.

Thank you for reading this and for being a reader of The Straits Times.

Wish you a pleasant evening and see you again tomorrow.

- Ooi Boon

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