Rate this article:  

Further to our Alert of 2 January 2015 focussing on the increased number of hijackings of small coastal tankers in Southeast Asia during 2014, both the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) - International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the ReCAAP - Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) in Asia, have now issued their half year reports for 2015 highlighting a continuing trend in Southeast Asia of the hijacking of small tankers by maritime pirates averaging one attack every two weeks.

According to ReCCAP ICS there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported in Asia during the period January-June 2015 compared with the same period in 2014. Although the majority of incidents in the region are small scale robberies of anchored vessels and petty theft cases onboard ships while underway in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS), the increase in hijackings during the last 12-15 months signifies an important trend. The rate of reported hijackings for product theft has been increasing steadily since 2013 and are at record levels this year, and, according to the ICC IMB half year report, five small tankers were hijacked in Southeast Asian waters in the second quarter of 2015 alone. A key area of concern is hijackings involving siphoning of ship fuel/oil from product and oil tankers, most of them below 5,000 GT. A total of eight incidents of siphoning were reported to ReCAAP ICS during the period January-June 2015 compared with five incidents during the same period in 2014. According to Risk Intelligence, the average size of tankers is also increasing with a new average of 4,899 dwt, which is up from 2014. On 8 August the JOAQUIM became the latest victim of small tanker hijackings, having 3,500 metric tons of MGO stolen in an incident near Malaysian waters.


Hijackings have followed a common pattern, and most incidents are concentrated in the congested areas around the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Groups of pirates generally consist of 10-12 men armed with knives and/or guns. Crew members are normally detained for the duration of the attack which typically last from several hours to overnight, depending on the efficiency of the fuel cargo siphoning process. The most serious hijacking during the first half of 2015 was conducted by a group of 13 armed pirates in June 2015 onboard the ORKIM HARMONY where a crew member was shot in the thigh. The pirates had reportedly managed to board the vessel undetected before taking over the bridge and disabling the vessel’s AIS-system. The hull was repainted and the name of the vessel was changed to avoid identification. The incident demonstrates the scale of the problem and the level of sophistication of the pirates as well as the potential for violence. This incident may also end the recent surge in targeting vessels with products that is more difficult to handle and may lead to a renewed focus on low-risk vessels and cargoes. The vessel was located after a week and eight pirates were detained.

Recommendations

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. In most cases robbers have aborted their boarding attempts as soon as they were noticed by the ships’ crew. Vigilance and readiness of the crew, especially during the hours of darkness, are therefore still the key measures to prevent boarding by the pirates/robbers. We recommend that small tankers in particular 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 in Kuala Lumpur as well as ReCAAP ICS.

As in our previous alert, 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.
  • Implement measures based on the identified risk level. Exercise extra vigilance and keep a sharp look out while operating in areas of concern. Ensure crew are proficient in standard watchtower procedures and practice anti-piracy training and procedures for the crew.
  • At anchor and during the 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) for watch keeping.
    • Consider removing and storing brass items such as fire nozzles away from unsecured locations on deck. If doing so a full risk assessment shall be done to ensure that the vessel’s fire-fighting capabilities are not prejudiced. The nozzles can also be stored in more than one secured location known to all ship’s staff and easily accessible in emergency situations.  Such safety items should be placed back in their designated locations as soon as the vessel has left the anchorage in piracy areas.
    • 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.

Best Management Practices (BMP4) were drafted for protection against Somalia-based piracy, but many of the observations and recommendations are also relevant to Southeast Asia. By following these recommendations, 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

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