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While the total number of pirate attacks at sea has decreased for the third consecutive year, hijackings of small tankers by armed gangs are escalating in Southeast Asia.

2 January 2015

Although smaller in scope than piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off West Africa, piracy in Southeast Asia remains very much a current issue. There was a total of 177 piracy incidents in Southeast Asia for the year to 15 December 2014. This compares to 87 in the Gulf of Guinea and 38 in the Indian Ocean during the same period. Attacks in Southeast Asian waters are dominated by incidents of petty theft, and whilst these were mostly lower intensity attacks, the increased number of attacks and hijackings against small coastal tankers by armed gangs is a worrying sign.

Of the six vessels hijacked worldwide in the third quarter of 2014, five were attacked in Southeast Asian waters. Gangs of robbers armed with knives and guns are now making these waters increasingly dangerous for small tankers carrying products such as gasoil or marine diesel oil. Boarding the ship at sea, pirates hold the crew hostage for a short time while they steal all or part of the cargo. These attacks on smaller tankers in Southeast Asia, as well as the increased severity of the attacks taking place in the South China Sea, are of concern. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC), the Inchcape Shipping Services Dubai (ISS) and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) publish alerts, statistics and recommended best practices covering the issue.

Types of incidents     

Statistics indicate that in particular three categories of vessels are being attacked; small product tankers, ships in port or at anchor, and tugs and barges. Although the number of incidents involving siphoning off of fuel/oil declined during the period July-September 2014, these types of incidents are significant in nature and of most concern.

Small product tankers

There has been an increase in the number of incidents involving the siphoning off of ship fuel/oil in Asia during the period January-December 2014, and eight out of nine such incidents took place in the South China Sea; near Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Due to their size, relatively slow speed and low freeboard when laden, small product tankers are particularly vulnerable to attack.

Small product tankers have been hijacked for days while some or all of their cargo, usually marine gas oil, was siphoned off into another vessel. These incidents involved armed personnel boarding the tankers using motorised boats or speedboats. They mostly stole cash and the crew’s personal belongings, and damaged the ship’s navigational and communication equipment. The crew was not injured in the incidents. It appears the gangs have knowledge of the cargo fuel type and how to dispose of it. We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters and to report all attacks and suspicious activity.

Ships in port or at anchor

There has been a significant improvement in the situation at ports and anchorages in Indonesia. A total of 41 incidents were reported during January-September 2014 compared with 62 incidents during the same period in 2013. However, there has been an increase in the number of incidents involving ships in port or at anchor in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, the South China Sea, Bangladesh and India, compared with the past four years. There has also been an increase in the number of ships having been boarded whilst anchored north-east of Pulau Bintan in the South China Sea.

Tugs and barges

There has been a decline in the number of incidents involving tug boats towing barges during  2014. Only six incidents out of a total of 26 in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, involved tug boats towing barges.

Tugs and barges are vulnerable to attack due to their small size and slow speed. The majority of these attacks involves the theft of cash and valuables from the ships and crews, although there have been some instances of ship hijacking. While the barge is usually recovered, there have been instances where the tug has not been recovered. There has also been an increase in the theft of engine spares, engine stores and scrap metal onboard ships and barges while underway in the westbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.


Members and clients are reminded of the importance of a vigilant lookout whilst underway and also in maintaining an effective anti-piracy watch, particularly whilst at anchor. We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters and report all actual or attempted attacks, including any suspicious movements of boats and skiffs, to the local authorities/coastal state immediately to enable them to provide timely assistance. Attacks and suspicious activities should be reported to the 24 hour manned IMB PRC,1 in Kuala Lumpur as well as ReCAAP ICS.

We recommend that Members and clients:

  • Carry out risk assessments by reviewing threat characteristics and intended route, considering their own ships’ vulnerability and defensive measures and by evaluating crew competence and training levels.
  • Exercise extra vigilance and keep a sharp look out while operating in areas of concern. Vigilance and readiness of the crew, especially during hours of darkness, are still the key factors to prevent boarding by the pirates/robbers. In most cases robbers aborted their boarding attempts as soon as they were noticed by the ships’ crew.
  • At anchor and during hours of darkness:
    • Keep the vessel’s surroundings well lit and the flood lights switched on.
    • Maintain a sharp lookout for small fishing boats, and any such boats approaching the vessel. Deploy an additional deck hand (with communication support) for watchkeeping.
    • Ensure that the forward store room is double and heavily locked and keep brass items such as fire nozzles in a safe and secure place, preferably in the vessel’s main store or accommodation stores.
    • Report all incidents to the port control via VHF or the Coast Guard on channel 16 and to the IMB PRC.
  • Review work processes to prevent disclosure of information to external parties. Members of the crew have been suspected of being complicit in the theft in some incidents.

By also adopting best management practices (BMP4) owners and vessels will improve and maintain security standards and avoid unnecessary risks. In more than half of the incidents in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore it was reported that the robbers escaped empty-handed, after the crew had been alerted.

Reporting and additional information

Information sharing is strongly encouraged to improve the understanding of the pirates/robbers’ modus operandi thus enabling the adoption of the necessary and most appropriate anti-piracy measures. Ships are advised to report all piracy and armed robbery incidents including suspicious movements of boats and skiffs to:

  • The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia;24 Hour manned Anti Piracy HELPLINE Tel: + 60 3 2031 0014. Tel: +60 3 2078 5763/ +60 3 2031 0287 / +60 3  2031 3106, Fax: +60 3 2078 5769,  General E-mail: imbkl@icc-ccs.org  / piracy@icc-ccs.org, web: https://icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre.
  • The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP ICS) in Singapore, Tel: +65 6376 3063 (www.recaap.org)

More information on precautionary measures can be found in the ReCAAP ISC Special Report on ‘Incidents of Siphoning of Fuel/Oil at Sea in Asia’ in July 2014: http://www.recaap.org/Home.aspx

ReCAAP and BIMCO have jointly developed a useful anti-piracy poster: http://www.recaap.org/Portals/0/docs/Contributions/Anti-Piracy%20Poster%20%282011-04-13%29%20Reduced.pdf

Additional information, including a copy of BMP4, is available on Gard’s website (www.gard.no) under the general topic “Trading area risks”.

1 Upon receipt of the incident report the IMB PRC immediately relays the incident information to ALL local and regional law enforcement agencies. A message is also broadcast to ALL ships in the region. Higher risk incidents like hijackings or incidents where crews are injured are also sendt by email from IMB PRC to CSO’s, DPA and others in the shipping industry. Currently this list includes nearly 750 recipients. We encourage all Members and clients trading in high risk piracy areas to make use of this free service.