Parliament: Maritime Security Task Force plans to restructure amid rise in piracy in Singapore Strait

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said extra measures are useful to prevent a further rise in the number of sea robbery and piracy in the Singapore Strait. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF) plans to restructure to deal with piracy at sea, including beefing up its assets, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday (Feb 3).

"That review is expected to be complete in the next few months," he said in a written reply to a parliamentary question by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

He said extra measures are useful to prevent a further rise in the number of sea robbery and piracy in the Singapore Strait.

The task force of the Singapore Navy was set up in 2009 and works with law enforcement and maritime agencies to guard Singapore's waters, including conducting daily patrols as well as boarding and escort operations in the Singapore Strait.

Dr Ng noted that the number of piracy and sea robbery in the waterway "fluctuates considerably from year to year". There were 48 cases in 2014, 104 in 2015 and 31 last year. In the remaining seven years of the last decade, there was an average of 12 incidents annually.

To battle the pirates, Dr Ng said the Singapore Navy, among other things, works daily with other local maritime agencies such as the Police Coast Guard and Maritime and Port Authority, through the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre.

In a separate written reply to Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan explained that the Singapore Strait does not only include Singapore territorial waters, so the fight against piracy and armed robbery there requires "strong collaboration among all regional partners".

In the last two months, there were 12 incidents in the strait.

"As none of these incidents occurred within Singapore territorial waters, no investigations were required of our agency. If an incident happens within Singapore territorial waters, the Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG) will investigate where necessary," Mr Khaw added.

Dr Ng said that Singapore has been working with navies and coast guards of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to deal with incidents outside Singapore waters, such as transnational maritime piracy, robbery and other security threats.

"Most recently, at the 14th Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP) Joint Coordination Committee meeting, the navies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand revised the MSP standard operating procedures to enhance the region's ability to tackle sea robbery in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore," he said.

The countries are committed to holding quarterly exercises to improve information exchange processes, and will use a new set of indicators to help identify anything suspicious when investigating sea robberies.

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"Beyond regular conduct of sea and air patrols under the MSP, joint training and exercises as well as information sharing strengthen understanding and collaboration to deal with maritime incidents together," Dr Ng added.

He said that all pirates and robbers in the Singapore Strait so far are based and operate outside Singapore's territorial waters, and the Republic wants to share more information and intelligence with Malaysia and Indonesia.

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