SINGAPORE - The number of armed robbery incidents reported in the Singapore Strait has hit a five-year high.
It doubled in the first half of this year compared to 2019.
There were 16 incidents from January to June this year - with 13 occurring in the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme - compared with eight in the same period in 2019.
The increase in piracy and armed robbery was notable throughout Asian waters in first half of the year with 51 reported incidents compared with 28 for the same period last year.
The half-yearly statistics was released by the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCaap) Information Sharing Centre on Thursday (July 16).
The centre's executive director, Mr Masafumi Kuroki, told reporters in a virtual briefing that ReCaap was concerned with the nearly two-fold increase in the number of incidents in Asia, even though most were at a "low severity level".
"Small crimes, if not addressed, can embolden criminals to commit more serious acts," he said.
Most of the incidents in the Singapore Strait this year occurred in the hours of darkness and involved bulk carriers, although tankers and tug boats were also targeted. Items stolen include engine spares, scrap metal and steel construction material on barges.
The number of incidents in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore has climbed steadily from one in the first half of 2016 to two in the following year and five in 2018.
Asked why the incidents in the area have increased, Mr Kuroki said the reasons were not clear, but there was a need for ships to enhance vigilance there and for law enforcement to strengthen surveillance and patrol.
"The recent increase of incidents in Singapore Strait started last year, so I think it is not related to Covid-19," he added.
One bright spot was the arrest of three perpetrators on a bulk carrier by the Indonesian Navy on March 16.
The carrier was on its way about 6.8 nautical miles east off Pulau Karimun Kecil, in Indonesia, at about 5am, when the perpetrators were sighted in the engine room and were detained by the crew. The crew was not injured and nothing was stolen.
Mr Kuroki said he hoped for more of such arrests in the Singapore Strait. He added that in general, arresting perpetrators was an important factor in reducing the number of incidents, citing how arrests made by the Indonesian authorities in 2014 and 2015 had drastically reduced the number of incidents in 2016.
He noted that while the spike in Asia has coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, it was difficult to find any causal relation between the two.
He said: "We are not a research institute. We are not doing any study, or have any data to assess the relationship between Covid-19 and incidents in Asia."
The number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery reported in Asia waters reached its lowest in more than a decade in 2018, with 76 incidents. This increased slightly to 82 last year.
Reports of incidents are collated from designated government agencies of ReCAAP's 20 member states, which include Singapore, India, the Philippines, Japan, Australia and the United States. The Maritime and Port Authority is Singapore's designated agency.
Recent efforts by Singapore to tackle piracy include the recent restructuring of the navy's Maritime Security Task Force.
In January, the Republic of Singapore Navy also hosted a Malacca Straits Patrol Joint Coordinating Committee Meeting with representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.