"People on the island think the pirates are bad people, but what can they do? They're frightened. There's no use in confronting them because they are close to the police. Also, some of the pirates give money to charity. They help community organisations." - Idris, former gang member.
Idris, not his real name, took us to the bay in which the pirate gangs like in wait. He told me there are five to ten people in each gang and three "big bosses" dominate the business - including a close relative.
"He's become a local ecstasy supplier. He also owns a disco and his people are working in Malaysia stealing boats, for which he supplies the funds." - Idris
From here there's a perfect view of Singapore, and the seemingly endless flow of shipping into the Malacca Straits.
"They usually target bigger ships, like tankers. They're after money, hand phones and any other valuables they're carrying." - Idris.
The gangs from this island are essentially sea robbers, picking targets at random. That's bad enough, but ship owners see a growing trend towards larger scale attacks - involving more sophistication and violence. ....The government is planning to bolster its coastal forces, and amid much fanfare has started joint patrols with Indonesia and Singapore - all designed to show their new resolve.
And into this volatile mix has come the Americans - US forces conducting joint exercises with all three nations, and pushing for a bigger role in policing the straits. For Washington is haunted by the spectre of terrorism.
"I think what they're afraid of is something like the USS Cole. That there will be an attack in the Straits of Malacca either against a major boat carrying oil, or against a port facilities that could wreck the economies of places like Singapore." - Sidney Jones, International Crisis Group.
For the moment she sees little evidence to back up those fears. Though there's plenty to show the danger of these waters - an incident map at the Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur has the Malacca Strait and surrounding areas bristling like a pin cushion.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Nice TV piece on pirates of the Malacca Strait area here: