SINGAPORE - More piracy and armed robbery incidents took place in the straits of Malacca and Singapore last year, a situation that mirrors the increase in such cases in Asia.
There were nine such incidents in the straits in 2017, compared with two in 2016. For Asia as a whole, 101 piracy and armed robbery incidents against ships were reported in 2017 - a 19 per cent increase over the 85 in 2016.
Of the nine in the straits, eight occurred in the Singapore Strait, and one in the Malacca Strait. Most of the cases were carried out after dark by four to six perpetrators in small boats.
"The possible reasons for the increase in the number of incidents (in the straits) could be lower surveillance by littoral states, and complacency of ship crew," said an annual report by the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCaap) Information Sharing Centre, which was released on Tuesday (Jan 16).
However, the centre's executive director Masafumi Kuroki said the figures should not cause alarm, given that the situation has improved significantly since the late 1990s, when the area was a hotbed of piracy.
He said: "The regional coordination (among the littoral states) is working well, particularly as the Malacca Strait was once considered a very dangerous area, but now, they have almost no incidents there.
"Singapore is playing an important role in terms of coordinated patrols with its neighbours, and has to play an important role for its own interest." Mr Kuroki added that the patrols were a key factor for the long-term improvement in sea safety.
Dr Collin Koh, research fellow at the Maritime Security Programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said: “It is simply the persistent capacity shortfalls of many regional maritime forces, having to keep up with various challenges across multiple maritime areas such as illegal fishing and smuggling, that makes it difficult to keep such piracy incidents consistently low.”
In 2004, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia embarked on trilateral coordinated patrols in the Malacca Strait aimed at stamping out piracy.
Mr Kuroki hosted a media briefing at the Pan Pacific Orchard Hotel on Tuesday, at which results of the annual report were presented.
Almost half the world's total seaborne trade passes through the straits of Malacca and Singapore each year.
Of the 101 incidents in Asia last year, 84 per cent, or 85 cases, were armed robbery against ships, while the other 16 per cent were piracy cases.
Areas of concern flagged by the report include the continued abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas, even though the number of such incidents has fallen from 10 cases in 2016 to three in 2017. Hijacking of ships to steal oil cargo is also of concern, with three incidents in 2017.
Mr Kuroki said: "While the number of incidents in 2017 continues to be among the lowest in the past decade, the increase that occurred over the last year is a reminder that there is no room for complacency in the fight against piracy and armed robbery against ships, and underscores the need for enhanced vigilance among all stakeholders."
The incidents are collected from designated government agencies from ReCaap's 20 member states, which include 14 Asian countries such as Singapore, India and the Philippines. The Maritime and Port Authority is Singapore's designated agency.