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Asean Affairs  11 September  2015

Indonesia Faces Resurgent Maritime Piracy Challenges

Recent data from the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) indicate Southeast Asia has emerged as the world’s hottest spot for piracy attacks and armed robbery against ships this year. Of particular concern is the concentration of crimes occurring in the eastbound shipping lanes of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

The vast majority of attempts at piracy and armed robbery against ships in Southeast Asia have been successful, with most incidents being cases of petty theft while vessels are anchored or moving slowly through the Strait of Malacca, often in Indonesian waters. Indonesia alone accounted for 54 of 91 actual and attempted piracy attacks in the region during the first six months of 2015.

To combat this trend, Indonesia has partnered with Malaysia to form a rapid response team to interdict criminals at sea and with Australia to conduct joint patrols and develop anti-piracy training programs.

While piracy in eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean in the late 2000s frequently occurred while ships were underway, incidents of armed robbery against ships and petty theft in Southeast Asia overwhelmingly occur while ships transit through the crowded Strait of Malacca or are anchored. In most cases, pirates are generally in small groups of six or fewer, and do not always carry guns or intend to harm the crews of boarded ships . This has led some to dismiss the severity of maritime piracy in Southeast Asia as not being perpetrated by professional criminals.

Despite its efforts, Indonesia’s capacity to maintain its maritime domain awareness, much less to interdict criminals at sea, remains very limited. The high success rate, coupled with a small chance of being caught, is likely to encourage would-be pirates and incentivize more experienced pirates to experiment with more lethal weapons to ensure success.In addition, since crimes against ships tend to be concentrated in areas where international ships anchor or move slowly, Indonesian navy vessels will need to focus more of their patrols on maritime crime hot spots, such as the Strait of Malacca, potentially limiting patrols in other regions of the country.Because armed robbery against ships tends to be a crime of opportunity in Indonesia’s waters, authorities could deter would-be criminals by maintaining a high degree of visibility. Coordination with neighboring countries, including with Malaysia’s helicopter-equipped Special Task and Rescue team, may also be invaluable.

Counter-piracy efforts in eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean show that patrols from various navies and coast guards can be combined with the use of private security contractors on ships traversing high-risk areas. Likewise, Indonesia’s 17,000 islands and over 3,300 miles of coastline requires a concerted approach to combat piracy.

According to Oceans Beyond Piracy’s The State of Maritime Piracy 2013 report, significant gains were made in eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean after the shipping industry began to routinely place private security contractors on their vessels. The number of attacks and the number of successful attacks on ships plummeted as a result. Research has shown that the use of private security contractors can also help help manage the considerable stress (including, in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder) experienced by crews that often comes with traversing high-risk areas or being held captive. For these reasons, private maritime security advisers as well as the International Maritime Organization have recommended the use of private security contractors in Southeast Asia.

For the government of President Joko Widodo, which hopes to transform Indonesia into a global maritime nexus, international counter-piracy cooperation is a valuable means for building close relationships with the defense and coast guard forces, as well as maritime authorities of neighboring countries. Stepped-up counter-piracy efforts can be an excellent tool for the navy to project its seapower throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

Courtesy: This post originally appeared on the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C. cogitASIA blog

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