The Singapore Strait is among the busiest commercial routes in the world. It is a 19-kilometre wide and 113-kilometre-long strait located south of Singapore, between the north of Riau Islands in Indonesia and the south-eastern tip of the Malay Peninsula. For numerous years, the Singapore Strait has been considered one of the world’s most significant shipping waterways from both a strategic and an economic perspective.
As such, it comes as no surprise that the Singapore Strait is also among the maritime routes in Southeast Asia that are most vulnerable to attacks. The current trends in freight and shipping industry involves multiple incidents of piracy and armed robbery occurring along this busy waterway. To understand the issue, this article briefly tackles the ongoing rise of armed robberies in the Singapore Strait and some ways to combat the attacks.
The Rise of Armed Robberies in the Singapore Strait
In the first half of 2022, a significant rise in the number of armed robberies in the Singapore Strait has been seen, with at least 27 reports of vessel boardings. According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), there were 42 armed robbery incidents in Asian waters from January to June 2022, 64% of which occurred in the Singapore Strait.
These robbery incidents are nothing new since they were already rampant in the busy sea lane, especially between 2016 and 2019. However, compared to the number of incidents during these years, reports of piracy and sea robbery in the Singapore Strait began to increase drastically in 2020. The number of armed robbery cases in the area was said to have hit a six-year high in 2021, with 49 reported incidents.
For some maritime experts, the economic impact of COVID-19 could be partly blamed for the increase in armed robberies in busy commercial routes like the Singapore Strait. Most incidents occurred in hours of darkness and mainly involved tankers and carriers. In almost half of them, equipment and engine parts were reported stolen.
According to the executive director of the ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre, Masafumi Kuroki, the deteriorated economic conditions brought by the COVID-19 health crisis in numerous regions have led more people in coastal communities to resort to sea robberies. Being one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, the Singapore Strait is expectedly prone to be targeted by these perpetrators.
What Can Be Done to Combat Increasing Armed Robberies in the Singapore Strait
Due to the increasing number of armed robberies in the Singapore Strait, all vessels are advised to intensify their vigilance when transiting the maritime area. For the general manager of HMM Ocean Service’s tanker management team, Joo Sung-Kuk, one of the best ways to combat sea crimes is to have shipping companies develop a security plan before their ships enter crime-prone areas.
According to Joo, shipping companies must constantly monitor piracy-related websites and immediately report findings and incidents to relevant regional reporting centres like ReCAAP and other databases. He also urged shipmasters to brief their crew and perform drills in preparation for emergencies. Additionally, he recommended that vessels be designed with several layers of defence, including strengthened gates or doors and extensive communications and surveillance camera coverage.
Furthermore, to protect the interests of ship owners and shipping companies, it is also essential to encourage and require the application of insurance policies covering piracy and sea robbery incidents. Nonetheless, the solution to this long-standing maritime problem ultimately rests in the hands of government authorities. As such, countries around the Singapore Strait, such as Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, need to strengthen their cooperation over maritime security to tackle the issue.
While sea robberies are not a new phenomenon, the world has seen a dramatic increase in them over the last few years due to the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, as economic conditions worsen for many poor communities, they are forced to resort to crimes like piracy and armed robberies. For this reason, it is high time shipping companies level up their security defence so as not to fall victim to sea crimes.
For ships transiting the busy commercial sea lane of the Singapore Strait, increased vigilance, security, and cooperation with authorities are needed. As the latest shipping news in Singapore becomes filled with cases of sea robberies, it has already become necessary for everyone – from shipping companies and crew to governments and regional organisations, to take an active part in tackling the problem.
Photo credit: iStock/bari paramarta
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