Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Strait of Malacca/South China Sea Fuel Pirates: How to Beat Them?

In recent months, there has been a seeming upsurge in the hijacking of small tankers near the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea (SoM/SCS). These hijacking result in the transfer of cargo from these hijacked ships to other vessels. The most recent case is reported as Pirates Hijack Product Tanker in South China Sea:
Another commercial ship appears to have fallen victim of pirate attacks. Namely, Honduras registered product tanker Moresby 9, carrying 2200 metric tonne of Marine Gas Oil (MGO) was boarded by unknown number of perpetrators on July 4th at about 1938 hrs (local time) approximately 34 nautical miles from the Anambas Islands, Indonesia, ReCAAP ISC said.
This is believed to be the seventh attack in the region since April.
As others have noted, this sort of activity has a lengthy history in the region, but seems to be on the uptick.

With that in mind, SeaShip in Focus has a recent article on fighting this threat in the SoM/SCS ares at "How to beat the pirates":
Piracy in Southeast Asia is nothing new. What is new, however, is the jump in numbers and the very specific targeting of certain types of ships.

This spike in hijacking and cargo theft has been brought about by the black market demand for marine fuel oil in Southeast Asia, says Steve McKenzie, a senior analyst at the UK firm, Dryad Maritime. *** The common denominator for all of these hijackings and cargo theft incidents this year has been Singapore.***

“The stealing of oil products in the region is targeted product theft, which results in the stolen cargo being sold on the black market,” says Gerry Northwood, the coo of security firm, GoAGT.
“We assess that these crimes will continue unabated until the black market in marine fuel oil is curtailed and the crime syndicates who are controlling the gangs who carry out the crimes are dealt with,” the Dryad analyst reckons.
The piracy model currently used in Southeast Asia is very similar to that used by Nigerian gangs, who in recent years have been hijacking large product tankers across West Africa and then stealing fuel oil. These crimes are intelligence led and well-coordinated.
So then, what’s the way to deal with this scourge?

GoAGT’s Northwood admits that finding a way to solve to the maritime criminality and piracy problem in Southeast Asia is not going to be straightforward.

“Most of the incidents are occurring inside territorial waters, which makes the legal use of weapons as a means of deterrent very difficult to achieve without the enlistment of government military or navy,” he explains.

The primary solution is to end the black market for the stolen cargo, says Dryad’s McKenzie. The syndicate that is controlling the gangs must have good connections within the fuel business in Singapore, he reckons. If these links were broken it would be more difficult to target specific vessels.

". . .until the black market . . . is curtailed" -- that may be a very long time.

As you read through the article, you will note that some of the passive/defensive suggestions set out in the anti-Somali piracy Best Management Practices 4 are suggested.

It is also worth remembering that Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia reached some agreements regarding pursuit of pirates in the Strait of Malacca in the past. Some of these issues arise from the fact that there often is no "high seas" ( as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)) between the territorial waters of adjacent states in the Strait and in and around the islands that dot the area involved in these hijackings.

Whoa! There are limits on pirate hunting!
However, there are issues outside of the agreement area - as discussed here and in other posts, under the UNCLOS Part VII in which hijackers can commit their acts in the territorial waters of one state and escape "hot pursuit" by that state's navy/coast guard by sliding across in the territorial waters of a neighboring state:
Article 111. Right of hot pursuit

1. The hot pursuit of a foreign ship may be undertaken when the competent authorities of the coastal State have good reason to believe that the ship has violated the laws and regulations of that State. Such pursuit must be commenced when the foreign ship or one of its boats is within the internal waters, the archipelagic waters, the territorial sea or the contiguous zone of the pursuing State, and may only be continued ouside the territorial sea or the contiguous zone if the pursuit has not been interrupted. It is not necessary that, at the time when the foreign ship within the territorial sea or the contiguous zone receives the order to stop, the ship giving the order should likewise be within the territorial sea or the contiguous zone. If the foreign ship is within a contiguous zone, as defined in article 33, the pursuit may only be undertaken if there has been a violation of the rights for the protection of which the zone was established.

2. The right of hot pursuit shall apply mutatis mutandis to violations in the exclusive economic zone or on the continental shelf, including safety zones around continental shelf installations, of the laws and regulations of the coastal State applicable in accordance with this Convention to the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf, including such safety zones.

3. The right of hot pursuit ceases as soon as the ship pursued enters the territorial sea of its own State or of a third State.
Since the hijackings often take place within the territorial waters of a state and not on the "high seas" they are not really "piracy" under the terms of UNCLOS but "sea robbery" or even simple theft or larceny not subject to such international law as there is, but to the laws of the states involved.

In short, it can be quite the mess. I suppose the problems of sorting all this out make "curtailing" the black market seem easy by comparison. It does presuppose that there is no cooperation from -uh- associations of persons powerful enough to provide top cover for the sale of the hijacked cargo.

Better communications, frequent security patrols and naval/private escorts for likely targets may be required to slow down these robbers.

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