All Hands on Deck

In lieu of a con­certed in­ter­na­tional ef­fort to com­bat piracy, Nor­we­gian ships should pre­pare for in­creased at­tacks in South­east Asian wa­ters with a slew of coun­ter­mea­sures.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Snapshots - ERIC BAKER

Nor­we­gian- flagged ships that travel to Asia face an in­creas­ing risk of piracy, a danger that is ex­ac­er­bated by the South China Sea con­flict, where sev­eral coun­tries have com­pet­ing ter­ri­to­rial claims over a vast swath of open ocean.

Though piracy in So­ma­lia re­ceived most of the re­cent head­lines, in­clud­ing a Hol­ly­wood movie about hi­jack­ing a ship, the mar­itime in­dus­try and sev­eral mil­i­taries took coun­ter­mea­sures that re­duced re­ported piracy there to al­most zero.

In con­trast, the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Bureau re­ports since 2010, at­tacks on ships in South­east Asian wa­ters have more than dou­bled, from 70 to 141, and in 2014 they ac­counted for nearly 75% of all sea crimes world­wide.

Piracy tends to hap­pen at choke points, nar­row sea lanes that ship­pers must use, re­ported mar­ketwatch.com. Crim­i­nals take ad­van­tage of these points to strike. Roughly one-third of global trade passes through South­east Asia’s ship­ping lanes.

Sin­ga­pore and the Strait of Malacca are key mar­itime hubs in this re­gion, in­clud­ing for Nor­we­gian ves­sels. Nearly half of the world’s oil and many of the en­ergy prod­ucts bound for China and Ja­pan go through these wa­ters. Pi­rates are usu­ally af­ter these en­ergy prod­ucts, specif­i­cally oil, with Oceans Be­yond Piracy es­ti­mat­ing the value of stolen oil in 2015 at USD 5 mil­lion.

While pi­rates in the In­dian Ocean of­ten hi­jacked ships and wanted to ran­som the crew and ves­sels, in South­east Asia they mainly go af­ter fuel and then leave ships quickly, smash­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices be­fore they can be caught, said mar­ketwatch.com. The oil can be sold quickly on the black mar­ket for a high re­turn on in­vest­ment, po­ten­tially mak­ing millions of dol­lars, in­stead of wait­ing for a long pe­riod of time for a ran­som, said Matt Walje of Oceans Be­yond Piracy.

Part of the prob­lem is tac­tics that worked in the Gulf of Aden don’t work in East Asia be­cause of com­pli­cated ter­ri­to­rial claims.

With So­mali pi­rates, gov­ern­ments and mul­ti­lat­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions mus­tered naval forces and pa­trol boats to blan­ket the area while shipown­ers used barbed wire, wa­ter can­nons and armed guards to de­ter crim­i­nals.

Com­pli­cated or over­lap­ping ter­ri­to­rial claims in Asia, in­clud­ing in the South China Sea, al­low pi­rates to board a ship in one coun­try’s wa­ters and move it to an­other’s ter­ri­tory, slow­ing the re­sponse from au­thor­i­ties, said Mr Walje. An­other bur­den is armed guards are not al­lowed to op­er­ate in ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters, said Arild Nod­land, founder of Ber­gen Risk So­lu­tions, a Nor­we­gian in­tel­li­gence firm that as­sists ships through high-risk wa­ters.

The In­ter­na­tional Law of the Sea al­lows ships to travel freely in open wa­ters, but many of Asia’s ship­ping lanes cross through wa­ters claimed by coun­tries. Not only does a highly tense, frac­tious en­vi­ron­ment in the South China Sea make ship­ping slower, but pi­rates can take ad­van­tage of the ban on use of armed guards to at­tack at choke points. Yet armed guards have been de­scribed as a crit­i­cal suc­cess fac­tor in halt­ing piracy by Mr Nod­land.

To fight against this crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity in Asia, a Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment on Com­bat­ing Piracy and Armed Rob­bery (ReCAAP) was formed in 2006. Some 20 coun­tries in­clud­ing Nor­way are sig­na­to­ries, and the goal is shar­ing in­for­ma­tion and in­tel­li­gence, pro­mot­ing re­gional co­op­er­a­tion and con­ven­ing groups to dis­cuss re­gional tac­tics.

Un­for­tu­nately, In­done­sia and Malaysia, two of the hotspots for piracy in the re­gion, have not joined ReCAAP and the or­gan­i­sa­tion lacks a clear line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, said mar­ketwatch.com.

The Nor­we­gian Mar­itime Au­thor­ity as well as the United King­dom Marine Trade Op­er­a­tions have di­rect re­port­ing cen­tres that can re­spond to an at­tack and these have proven use­ful in the Gulf of Aden.

In July 2015 the navies of ASEAN agreed to band to­gether to fight piracy in the Malacca Strait, the first agree­ment of its kind in South­east Asia. The key to re­duc­ing sea crimes in the re­gion is gov­ern­ments work­ing to­gether on di­rect re­sponses, pros­e­cu­tion and im­pris­on­ment of pi­rates, said mar­ketwatch.com.

The South China Sea dis­pute has been called in­tractable by Stein Tøn­nes­son, a Nor­we­gian pro­fes­sor at the Peace Re­search In­sti­tute Oslo. China, Tai­wan, Viet­nam, the Philip­pines,

Malaysia and Brunei all claim sovereignty to some por­tion of the is­lands or sea in this large area, mainly be­cause eco­nomic ben­e­fits. The area com­prises a large area for fish­ing and there are sus­pected oil and nat­u­ral gas de­posits un­der the sea.

The most hotly con­tested ar­eas in­clude the Spratly Is­lands and the Para­cel Is­lands, and Chi­nese build­ing in the area is con­sid­ered sabre-rat­tling by many of its neigh­bours. In fact, China has built man-made is­lands near the Spratly Is­lands and con­ducted sea and air pa­trols around them. And the coun­try built a fuel fill­ing sta­tion in the Paracels to en­able larger civil­ian con­trol.

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