A few weeks ago the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported an increase in the number of vessels attacked or hijacked in South East Asia, particularly to the east of Singapore. Many of the incidents have occurred in an area between the northern coast of Pulau Bintan and 3º 30’N, extending eastwards to 105º 30’E.
The attackers, who are often armed with firearms and knives, appear to be targeting small tankers carrying readily marketable products including gas oil and marine diesel. Such vessels are vulnerable due to their slow speed, low freeboard and small crews. Typically the crew is held hostage while the cargo is removed, following which the vessel is released.
Two entered vessels have been attacked this year, the most recent of which involved a 3,000 gt bitumen tanker which was boarded shortly before daybreak by several armed men using a 6 metre long boat powered by an outboard engine. The vessel was approximately 25 miles southeast of Pulau Aur. The attackers lost interest in the cargo after finding that it was bitumen but ransacked the vessel looking for money and valuables, spending over an hour on board. After they left, an engineer officer was found in his cabin with a serious head injury which may have been caused by a firearm. Although the engineer was airlifted to hospital, the wound proved to be fatal. This tragic case represents a disturbing development.
The other vessel was a 4,000 gt product tanker which was hijacked at the beginning of October approximately 25 miles to the southeast of Pulau Tinggi. The vessel was boarded in the early hours of the morning by around 10 men wearing masks and carrying knives and pistols. They assaulted the crew and destroyed the vessel’s communication equipment. The attackers left one week later after transferring the vessel’s cargo of gas oil to another tanker.
Members operating small, laden tankers are advised to alert their crews to the possibility of attack and to strengthen shipboard security measures until clear of the area concerned. Implementing Security Level 2 may be considered, as may the general anti-piracy precautions set out in BMP4. It should also be borne in mind that if a vessel appears to be well prepared to counter a piracy attack, potential assailants may decide to look for a softer target elsewhere.
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