Piracy threat to product tankers on the rise as attacks climb

Hijackings of small oil tankers by armed gangs are increasing in Southeast Asia, home to the shortest sea-trade route between the Middle East and China, even as pirate attacks globally fell for a third year.

Five of the six vessels seized worldwide in the third quarter were in Southeast Asia, said the International Maritime Bureau and International Chamber of Commerce. There’s been 178 global piracy incidents so far this year, down from 352 in 2011, they said in an e-mailed report today.

Gangs of thieves armed with knives and guns are making Southeast Asian waters increasingly dangerous for small tankers carrying fuels such as gasoil or marine diesel, according to the report. The region includes the Malacca Strait connecting the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea and the Pacific that’s been described by the U.S. Energy Information Administration as one of the world’s “most strategic choke points.”

“It’s encouraging to see the huge decrease in maritime piracy and armed robbery over the last few years,” said Pottengal Mukundan, the Kuala Lumpur-based director of the IMB. “However, there has been a worrying new rise in attacks against small coastal tankers in Southeast Asia. We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters.”

Pirates killed three crew, kidnapped five and took 369 seafarers hostage globally in the first nine months of this year, according to the report. A total of 17 vessels were hijacked, 124 were boarded and 10 fired upon.

In Somalia, where armed guards and naval patrols have helped deter and repel attacks on a trade lane linking Europe to Asia, 40 hostages are still being held for ransom, according to the report.

“Some of those crew members have been held captive there for more than four years now, with fading hopes of immediate release,” Mukundan said.

Indonesia recorded 72 incidents in the first three quarters, including 67 armed robberies and five hijackings.

Southeast Asia’s waters are becoming more dangerous, said the captain of a Vietnamese tanker released by pirates earlier this month following a six-day regional hunt. The Sunrise 689 returned from Singapore after losing part of its diesel cargo to pirates who said they were Indonesian.

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