SE Asia pirates shift from hijackings to kidnappings
PIRATES are shifting from hijacking cargo ships to the more lucrative crime of kidnapping for ransom, a report said, after Philippine Islamic militants killed a German sailor and kidnapped another earlier this week.
“Piracy has changed in the past three years,” said Devlin McStay, data analyst at IHS Maritime and Trade, which is part of global market intelligence firm IHS Markit.
“We are seeing the number of kidnappings rise in the piracy hotspots of Southeast Asia and West Africa.”
On November 7, the Philippine military confirmed the Abu Sayyaf group had killed a German woman sailor and abducted her companion from their yacht off the southern Philippine coast.
The German man had coincidentally earlier been kidnapped by pirates in Somalia.
Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants last month also kidnapped the captain and a Filipino crew member of a South Korean cargo ship in the southern Philippines.
The military said the abduction marked the first time that kidnappers in the area had targetted a large ship, with previous attempts usually focusing on smaller vessels.
While the Abu Sayyaf ’s leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, analysts say they are mainly focused on a lucrative kidnapping business rather than religious ideology.
The militants earlier this year beheaded two Canadian hostages they had seized on land, after failing to collect a ransom.
Ridzwan Rahmat, a Singaporebased naval analyst at IHS Jane’s, said a clampdown by southeast Asian governments on the black market trade in bunker oil taken from hijacked vessels may have forced pirates to consider “kidnap-for-ransom operations that could be more lucrative financially”.
IHS data showed there were 44 pirate kidnappings involving ship crew in West Africa and Southeast Asia between January and September this year, up from 19 the previous year and just nine in all of 2014.
In Southeast Asia, “we are now seeing terrorist groups, such as Abu Sayyaf, employing a modus operandi more commonly associated with pirate groups”, Mr Ridzwan said.
Between March and July 2016, armed cells affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf are suspected to have been behind at least six known cases of kidnapping for ransom at sea.
The victims were from five tugs towing barges and a fishing trawler.
“This latest spate of attacks at sea, taking place also within a relatively short time period, represents an escalation compared to what previously were isolated incidents,” Mr Ridzwan added. –