Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Container Ships and Bulk Freighters Under Pirate Attacks

Six Incidents in Just Two Days
Shipping News Feature

ASIA – The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) has reported six pirate attacks in two days while underway in the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. The first half of the year has already seen an 18% increase in the number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia during January-June 2015 compared to the same period in 2014, with the Straits of Malacca and Singapore in particular seeing the most significant jump in incidents.

On August 21 and 22, six vessels reported to the Singapore Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS) via VHF about five unauthorised boarding’s and another attempted one. The Singapore Port Operation Control Centre (POCC) immediately notified the authorities of the littoral States and initiated navigational broadcast to warn mariners to maintain anti-piracy watch. The incidents are as follows:

21 August 2015

  1. At about 0230 hrs, oil products tanker Advantage Summer, was underway when five perpetrators attempted to board the vessel at the stern from a speedboat. The crew was alerted, the perpetrators aborted the attempt and fled. The master reported incident to the VTIS via VHF.
  2. Slightly more than an hour later, at about 0340 hrs, oil/chemical tanker Navig8 Stealth SV, was underway when four perpetrators armed with knives were sighted in the engine room. The master raised the alarm and the perpetrators fled. There was no loss of property and the crew was safe.
  3. Less than an hour later, at about 0430 hrs, container ship Maersk Lebu, was underway when four perpetrators were again sighted in the engine room. The master raised the alarm and the perpetrators escaped in a waiting small boat. Once again there was no loss of property and the crew was safe.
  4. At about 2329 hrs, bulk carrier Peace Bright, was underway when four perpetrators were sighted on board the vessel. The alarm was raised and the perpetrators escaped in a waiting boat, again with no loss of property and the crew left unharmed.
22 August 2015
  1. At about 0525 hrs, bulk carrier Atout, was underway when the crew sighted four perpetrators without weapons on board the vessel. The alarm was raised and the intruders escaped before anything could be stolen or the crew hurt.
  2. About an hour later, oil/chemical tanker Elbtank Denmark, was underway when the crew sighted four perpetrators armed with knives on board the vessel. In this last case the perpetrators stole the crew’s personal effects and escaped in a small boat without physically harming the crew.

Considering the close interval of time and proximity of these incidents, ReCAAP says that the perpetrators could possibly be from the same group and from the description of the incidents, the perpetrators operated in teams of about 4-5 persons, armed with knives and were opportunistic in nature without targeting specific vessels. They aborted boarding when crew was alerted, and escaped empty-handed when the alarm was raised without harming the crew. Of concern was their persistence in ‘hovering’ in the vicinity seeking out their next target.

The ReCAAP ISC commends the masters of the six vessels for reporting to the Singapore VTIS who issued the navigational broadcast to mariners, and notified the enforcement agencies. However, it requires a collective effort by all stakeholders at sea and on land to do their part towards eradicating such incidents. This should include the timely deployment of patrol vessels by the relevant littoral states and a general increase in surveillance in the vicinity. From the incidents, enhanced vigilance, early detection of suspicious perpetrators and activation of the alarm immediately are key actions towards preventing boarding.

The fear is of course is that, as we saw with Somalia, as time passes the pirate gangs get both more organised and more ruthless. The time, effort and expense of generally eradicating that particular scourge would have been inconceivable previously. A total of 59 incidents were reported in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore during the January-June 2015period, comprising 55 actual incidents and four attempted incidents, a 150% uplift in attacks compared to the same period in 2014 to 59 incidents.

About 85% of these incidents occurred while ships were underway in the eastbound lane of the TSS. ReCaap has noted this surge in these kinds of opportunistic attacks and strongly recommends all vessels operating in the area to exercise enhanced vigilance and take extra precautionary measures while underway, and the relevant enforcement agencies to step up surveillance and patrols particularly during hours of darkness between 2130 hrs and 0530 hrs.