Armed perpetrators boarded large merchant ships in Singapore Strait four times in last two months
SINGAPORE: Armed perpetrators are boarding big merchant ships in the Singapore Strait with multiple incidents in the past two months, including one case on Wednesday (Nov 27) involving a crew member being threatened with a knife.
Two of the incidents took place south of Batam's Pulau Pemping which lies 18km south of Singapore, while another two occurred east of Singapore off Pengerang in Johor. There was a fifth incident where a ship was boarded, but it was not confirmed whether the perpetrators were armed.
All of the incidents happened in the eastbound lane of the Singapore Strait, although items were reported stolen in only one incident.
This is according to reports by the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre.
The centre receives verified incident reports from authorities in its 20 member countries, including Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority (MPA). This comes after ships directly report incidents to the nearest coastal state.
The centre's executive director Masafumi Kuroki told CNA that shipping companies are concerned about the recent incidents. Singapore should be concerned too, he said, pointing out that they are happening in one of the country's most important shipping routes.
The Singapore Strait is one of the world's busiest commercial routes, with 2,000 ships passing through every day.
On Friday, the centre released a report detailing how two bulk carriers - big merchant ships specially designed to transport unpackaged bulk cargo - were boarded by armed perpetrators in the Singapore Strait.
In the latest incident on Wednesday, five perpetrators armed with a knife boarded the bulk carrier Kmax Evdokia near Pengerang at 4.58am. The duty oiler was grabbed and had a knife pointed at him, the centre said, although nothing was reported to be stolen.
On Nov 23, five perpetrators armed with long knives boarded another bulk carrier, Faye, near the same location at 5.22am. There were no confrontation and stolen items reported in this incident.
These follow three incidents in September and October of perpetrators boarding big ships near Pulau Pemping also in the eastbound lane of the Singapore Strait.
In the most serious incident on Oct 19, five perpetrators armed with a gun and jungle knife boarded the bulk carrier Nord Steel at 1am. They threatened a crew member, tied his hands and stole engine spares.
On Oct 18, five perpetrators boarded the very large crude carrier (VLCC) Hirado at 11.24pm. It was not stated if these perpetrators were armed, and no confrontation or stolen items reported.
And on Sep 30, five perpetrators armed with jungle knives boarded the bulk carrier Transpacific at 11.14pm, although there were also no confrontation and stolen items reported.
Mr Kuroki said the fact that the five incidents bore similar characteristics - they took place during the dark hours in the eastbound lane of the Singapore Strait - raises questions of whether they could be related.
"In five cases, there were five perpetrators," he added. "So is it the same group or is it a coincidence that there were five perpetrators?"
Mr Kuroki stated that the centre has no information on whether the perpetrators have been arrested, highlighting that it was a concern that they were armed.
"In other incidents, a gun was not mentioned, but maybe they had a gun but didn't show the gun," he said, noting that crew members could only report what they saw.
Mr Kuroki said he does not know why the five incidents took place in the eastbound lane of the Singapore Strait, which leads to other Southeast Asian countries and China.
However, he pointed out that the three incidents off Pulau Pemping occurred where ships had to slow down before making a turn. This would make them more susceptible to boarding.
In its report on Friday, the centre advised ships to exercise enhanced vigilance, adopt more precautionary measures and report all incidents immediately to the nearest coastal state.
"The ReCAAP ISC recommends to the law enforcement agencies of the littoral states to step up surveillance, increase patrols and enhance cooperation and coordination among them in order to respond promptly to incidents," it stated.
CNA has contacted MPA for comment.