... in the Strait of Malacca, a narrow channel between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula notorious for violent attacks on shipping, the Indonesian transport Ikan Murni was boarded by two dozen pirates armed with automatic weapons. Waiting near Berhala Island, the pirates fired on the ship and boarded. Twelve crewmembers jumped overboard and were later picked up by local fisherman.
The pirates, believed to be Aceh separatists in Indonesia, kidnapped the ship’s master and another crewmember, and abandoned the ship. They demanded a substantial ransom for crewmembers’ release, but authorities decline to say whether a ransom was paid. The owners of the Ikan Murni hired a tugboat to bring the ship back to shore, according to an account in “Tale of a Modern Pirate Gang” by piracy expert Mark Bruyneel.
Sounds just like the recent tanker and tug attacks, except now the pirates seem to have RPGs, in addition to automatic weapons.
But wait, there's more:
Charles N. Dragonette, author of the weekly “Worldwide Threat to Shipping Mariner Warning Information” and a senior analyst for the Civil Maritime Analysis Department at the Office of Naval Intelligence, said areas of high risk for piracy are ports and estuarial waters of the Strait of Malacca, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Somalia.Compromised law enforcement? Whatever could Mr. Dragonette be referring to?
The IMB said those areas show an alarming rise in the number of attacks at sea, while violence against crewmembers continues to grow. The organization adds South and Central America and Caribbean waters to that list.
“Only Northern Europe and North America are reliably free of piracy,” Dragonette told Sea Power. Pirates flourish where they find general political instability, compromised law enforcement and a high volume of unprotected shipping. The Strait of Malacca ranks particularly high in piracy surveys released by the IMB and other anti-piracy organizations due to a combination of these factors. Malaysian and Indonesian forces are spread thin, and Indonesia is contending with separatist violence in Aceh, which diminishes its ability to focus on anti-piracy efforts.
And there's this about the 5th Fleet:
n addition, the U.S. Fifth Fleet plays a role in Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, a multinational task force comprising Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Pakistan, New Zealand, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States. Operating in the North Arabia Sea, members of the task force patrol coastal areas, search suspect vessels and build an intelligence picture of the area.While I generally agree with Mr. Dragonette, the possible financial linkage between the pirates and funding of terrorist organizations means that the distinction cannot be so neatly drawn.
Cmdr. James Graybeal, public affairs officer for the commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. Fifth Fleet, said a recent example of CTF 150’s work was the interdiction of two dhows found in the North Arabia Sea. The search teams seized substantial amounts of pure heroin and methamphetamines.
“While the link between these drug smuggling networks and international terrorist organizations is still being investigated, the U.S. intelligence community believes these networks have facilitated [international terrorist organization] activities in the past,” he said.
In Dragonette’s view, the difference between piracy and terrorism is largely an informal distinction. “If the motive is financial gain then it is piracy, and if it is political gain then it is terrorism,” he said.