03 April 2005

Pirates sail Indonesian seas after tsunami

The pirates, believed by analysts to be part of a northern Indonesian crime syndicate, emerged just after operations wound down by more than a dozen foreign navies deployed to Indonesia's northern Aceh province at the peak of the tsunami relief effort.
The good old days when pirates were hung by the first law enforcement agency to lay their hands on them are, alas, gone.
A string of bold attacks by armed bandits in the Malacca Strait is stoking fears of a new wave of sea piracy in one of the world's busiest waterways, fueled by desperation in tsunami-ravaged northern Indonesia.

The three attacks in two weeks bore the trademark style of pirates who have stalked the strait for decades: grappling hooks were hurled as the bandits clambered aboard, abducting crew at gun point and then vanishing in speedboats, demanding ransom.

"It's going to get worse because the money from piracy is so good," said the managing director of a Singapore shipping company whose ships have been ransacked by bandits in the past and who has negotiated with pirates for the release of abducted crew.

"All they have to do is pirate three or four vessels a month. Each averages about $100,000 for them, so they can bring about $4 million a year. That's a lot of money and they can well afford to pay people off," said the shipper, who declined to be identified.

The latest hits were bolder than most of the attacks of 2004 and shattered two months' of peace in the strait, through which pass about a quarter of global trade and nearly all oil imports for Japan and China, since the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami.

"Clearly the tsunami effect was to stop activity but now it's resuming and it's mainly criminal elements based on the east coast of Indonesia," said Clive Williams of the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at the Australian National University.

Three attacks in two weeks
The International Maritime Bureau's Southeast Asian piracy reporting center in Malaysia got first word of the attacks on Feb. 28 when bandits wielding machine guns ransacked a tugboat in Malaysian waters and shot its chief engineer in the leg before abducting its captain and chief officer for ransom.

Twelve days later, gunmen armed with rocket launchers stormed a fully laden chemical tanker, briefly taking control of the ship before making off with the captain and chief engineer. They were held until a ransom was paid, a regional maritime official said. Within 48 hours, 10 bandits speaking in an Indonesian dialect fired at a Japanese tugboat before boarding the ship in northern Malaysia and abducting two Japanese crew and a Filipino. They were later freed after an apparent ransom was paid.
© EITB24 - 2005

David Shirlaw
Editor SeaWaves Magazine
(TEL) 604-924-5401 (FAX) 604-924-5403

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