Welcome dear reader, today the topic will be piracy. Now I want you to wipe the board clean when you think of pirates. They are no longer the 17th century image of Captain Jack Sparrow or at the other end of the spectrum, Captain Pugwash!
Increasingly, they are ruthless hostage takers who go not only for small yachts but oil tankers and freighters. Like 21st century terrorists and smugglers they make full use of the most up to date technology, like GPS systems and smartphones.
To keep this piece relatively short (you know what I am like by now dear reader, I can never keep things too short!) I am going to look at two particular areas where pirates are active and that is off the coast of war torn Somalia and the Malacca Straits.
In the warm, picturesque waters of the Gulf of Aden, China recently held joint anti-piracy exercises with NATO naval forces according to Reuters news agency. For China, keeping this passage clear for much needed oil supplies is integral to its economic security. The article from Reuters went on to note that China, even though it is averse to maintaining overseas military bases has been active in building up facilities in Djibouti, a strategically positioned state on the Gulf of Aden, in case it is ever needed.
Significant investments in naval patrols, by the EU in particular, which launched Operation Atalanta in 2008 has resulted in a sizable reduction in incidents of hijacking of boats. A list of the numerous succesess of Atalanta can be seen on the website of the EU’s External Action Service page concerning the EUNAVFOR operation.However, as a recent article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper noted the causes of the piracy, the overfishing by major powers in fish rich Somali waters, has yet to be adequately tackled. Most pirates in this part of the world were once fishermen driven to the lucrative piracy trade. At the height of the crisis, in 2011/2012 the Economist magazine estimated that the average ransom for a ship was $2.7 million.
Pity poor China here though dear reader, because my attention is now going to turn to the Malacca Straits, located off the coast of Malaysia and the archipelago of Indonesia. Already having to send its navy off to Africa it is having to step up responsibility for the waterways in its own backyard! China’s thirst for oil to power its gargantuan economy has seen the Straits become the one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, carrying one third of all the world’s most traded goods, according to the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO).
What is different to the incidents of ‘ship-napping’ (I have just made up the term by the way, not sure if ship-napping is strictly correct!) off the Somali coast is the discerning nature of the pirates in Asia. Here, they are essentially targeting the smaller vessels, ones which carry diesel and marine oil in particular. Whilst it may sound less ‘sexy’ the rewards come in the form of money with one hijacked tanker carrying almost four million litres of diesel, which was worth $2 million, as reported by the German new service, Deutsche Welle.
Another big difference is the sophistication involved in these attacks in the region. Unlike Somalia, there have been no reports of kidnappings of crew members let alone anybody being injured or killed. The pirates merely steal the cargo and then leave with their loot of ‘black gold.’
This does not mean that the attacks have been any less disruptive, according to the UN’s Global Report on Maritime Piracy 2013, the number of attacks has risen from 80 in 2008 to over 150 four years later. Now in 2015, the International Maritime Bureau has logged SE Asia as having 55% of the world’s recorded piracy incidents.
Like the EU’s Operation Atalanta mission, ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) organisation has clubbed its members’ naval resources together to set up MALSINDO (the Malacca Straits Coordinated Patrol) to eliminate the occurrences of piracy. Made up of battleships from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, little progress has been recorded by these patrols, as the Diplomat magazine notes, because (out of respect for the sovereignty of each others’ waters) no naval ship is allowed to pursue pirates outside of it’s own territorial waters, thus limiting the room for high speed pursuit!
In conclusion, the actions off the coast of Somalia appear to have been pretty effective but that is because of the extraordinary level and trust that suprantional organisations, like the EU, have managed. ASEAN meanwhile still has to shake of the perception that it is a mere ‘talking shop.’ Until this flaw in ASEAN is addressed the pirates will continue their lucrative voyages across the Straits!