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Giacomo Morabito

Ph.D. in Economics, Management and Statistics, Director and Founder of Mediterranean Affairs and Researcher on the Middle East, North Africa and Macroeconomics Desks at Wikistrat

Maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships are among the main concerns of the international community due to the extensive threat that they pose to global security and development. In the last twenty years, the most affected geographical areas have been mainly the Gulf of Guinea, the Western Indian Ocean region, and Southeast Asia. The most intense period of this phenomenon begun in the mid-1990s, reaching its peak between 2008 and 2011 in the Western Indian Ocean. Since 2011, there has been a significant decrease in the number of incidents, particularly off the coast of Somalia, due to measures to combat maritime piracy adopted by the international community.

Several initiatives have been carried out among the countries of Southeast Asia in order to counter maritime criminal activities, such as the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Anti-Piracy (ReCAAP), launched in 2006. According ReCAAP, the main concern in the region is the continued abduction of crew from ships in Sulu and Celebes Seas. It is estimated that over 100,000 ships per year transit the area carrying about 55m metric tonnes of cargo. Most of incidents in the Sulu Sea in the past 12 months were against fishing vessels and tugs towing barges of coal and earlier in the year the authorities sought to ban the tug and barges which had to be reversed because of the impact on the coal trade.

Achieving maritime security cooperation in this region requires that the relevant countries work hard to reach a consensus, build up mutual confidence, and eliminate the concern that maritime cooperation will affect the claim of sovereign right. Southeast Asian countries should share intelligence and hold law-enforcement exercises, and also adopt effective measures to promote economic and social development with the aim of eliminating threats to maritime security. This solution would have the advantage of creating an area of strong stability in a strategic region for international trade.

Maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships are among the main concerns of the international community due to the extensive threat that they pose to global security and development. In the last twenty years, the most affected geographical areas have been mainly the Gulf of Guinea, the Western Indian Ocean region, and Southeast Asia. The most intense period of this phenomenon began in the mid-1990s, reaching its peak between 2008 and 2011 in the Western Indian Ocean. Since 2011, there has been a significant decrease in the number of incidents, particularly off the coast of Somalia, due to measures to combat maritime piracy adopted by the international community.

According to the last report released by the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB), were reported 87 incidents worldwide over the first half of 2017, compared with 98 for the same period of the previous year.[i] The most affected geographical area has been Southeast Asia, which is strategically important for international trade: over half of the world’s commercial shipping pass through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, which provide the shortest sea route between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. These are the most important shipping lines in the world, carrying approximately one-quarter of all traded goods. In the last twenty years, with the increase in sea-borne trade and shipbuilding tonnage worldwide, the amount of commercial traffic traversing the region’s waterways has increased substantially, and it has resulted in the dramatic increase of maritime piracy and armed robbery in the region.

In particular, during the first half of 2015, Southeast Asia has accounted for 55 per cent of the world’s maritime piracy and armed robbery incidents,[ii] and Indonesia has been the country with the highest number of attacks, accounting for almost 40 per cent of the attacks in total. Two years later, Indonesia is still the most affected country, though there has been a significant decrease of incidents: from January to June 2017, 19 incidents off the coast of Indonesia were reported, compared with 24 for the same period in 2016.According to the data released by IMB, a substantial number of maritime piracy and armed robbery attacks took place in most major Indonesian ports, such as Dumai / Lubuk Gaung (5) and Muara Berau (3).

MARITIME PIRACY AND ARMED ROBBERY ATTACKS OFF COAST OF INDONESIA (2007–2016)

piracymaritime2.jpg

Source: Graph elaborated by the author based on data released by IMB (www.icc-ccs.org/icc/imb)

Several initiatives have been carried out among the countries of Southeast Asia in order to counter maritime criminal activities, such as the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Anti-Piracy (ReCAAP), launched in 2006. The program ReCAAP has been established with the objective of increasing multilateral cooperation to combat the threat of maritime piracy and armed robbery in Asia, through information sharing and cooperation agreements. The following 20 states have become Contracting Parties to ReCAAP: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Denmark, India, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam. ReCAAP had a significant effectiveness on cooperation and coordination in addressing mutual concerns in the region. In particular, the ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre (ISC) provided over ten years of service in information exchange, capacity building and cooperative arrangements, contributing to the realization of the mission and objectives of ReCAAP organisation.

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marketwatch.com

As of now, Malaysia and Indonesia have not joined the program. Indonesian authorities consider ReCAAP as a ‘threat’ to the national sovereignty, and maritime piracy and armed robbery in its waters as primarily a domestic issue. ReCAAP is also viewed as a competitor to Indonesia’s own national maritime security establishment, discouraging victims from reporting directly to the relevant Indonesian authorities. On the other hand, maritime piracy and armed robbery attacks may threaten the image of Indonesia as a maritime nation. In particular, private businesses are less likely to invest in Indonesia due to the capital that they must spend to secure their interests. The high costs, in terms of human and financial risk, deter businesses from investing further in Indonesia, hindering its further economic development. Additionally, attacks make the navigation of a strategic chokepoint dangerous, hindering the physical transportation of aid in a number of forms, including humanitarian, on its way to Indonesia. Therefore, Indonesia maintains informal links with ReCAAP and has also implemented a variety of counter maritime piracy and armed robbery–such as information sharing and intelligence exchange, training and exercises, and patrols–with foreign partners, especially with Southeast Asian countries.

However, maritime disputes in Southeast Asia have recently increased tensions and have affected the potential for cooperation in patrolling regional waters. This is due especially to unresolved conflicts between international and domestic laws concerning any coastal state’s obligation and jurisdiction to combat pirates. Consequently, these conditions have encouraged the increase of incidents in Southeast Asia, and also limited success of the international cooperation on combating maritime attacks in the region. According ReCAAP, the main concern in the region is the continued abduction of crew from ships in Sulu and Celebes Seas. It is estimated that over 100,000 ships per year transit the area carrying about 55m metric tonnes of cargo. Most of incidents in the Sulu Sea in the past 12 months were against fishing vessels and tugs towing barges of coal and earlier in the year the authorities sought to ban the tug and barges which had to be reversed because of the impact on the coal trade. The most significant attack for mainstream commercial shipping was the kidnapping of six Vietnamese from a bulk carrier in November 2016. At the moment, in the Southeast Asia the attacks must be kept in perspective, but there is the risk that incidents could increase due to unresolved conflicts between international and domestic laws, such as the ongoing conflict in the southern Philippines.

Achieving maritime security cooperation in this region requires that the relevant countries work hard to reach a consensus, build up mutual confidence, and eliminate the concern that maritime cooperation will affect the claim of sovereign right. Southeast Asian countries should share intelligence and hold law-enforcement exercises, and also adopt effective measures to promote economic and social development with the aim of eliminating threats to maritime security. This solution would have the advantage of creating an area of strong stability in a strategic region for international trade.

[i] Anon. (2017, July 3). Second quarter report reveals 87 incidents of maritime piracy in first half of year. ICC Commercial Crime Services. Retrieved from https://www.icc-ccs.org/index.php/1234-second-quarter-report-reveals-87-incidents-of-maritime-piracy-in-first-half-of-year

[ii] Parameswaran, P. (2015, April 25). Over Half of World Piracy Attacks Now in ASEAN. The Diplomat. Retrieved from http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/over-half-of-world-piracy-attacks-now-in-asean/

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