Executive Director, ReCAAP ISC, Kuroki Masafumi speaking at online media briefing.

There are strong indications that pirates and sea robbers may have flee the Gulf of Guinea region, especially Nigeria and now mostly operate within Asian waters, especially Singapore Strait, which recorded increased rate of attacks, accounting for over half of attacks in the entire Asian continent.

This trend might not be unconnected with the recent deployment in February this year, of Nigeria’s maritime security assets under the new Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure also called the Deep Blue Project on which the Federal Government has invested in excess of $175million.

Recent statistics show that despite falling numbers for armed robbery and piracy against ships in Asia as a whole, incidents are on the rise in the Singapore Strait, which accounted for over half of the attacks in the continent during the first six months of 2021 (January-June).

ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre’s ISC half year report showed a 35 per cent decrease in piracy and armed robbery against ships with 37 incidents in the first six months of the year in Asia.

“However, unfortunately, there was an increase of incidents in the Singapore Strait, we had 20 incidents in six months compared to 16 incidents in January to June last year,” Executive Director of ReCAAP ISC,  Masafumi Kuroki, told an online media briefing.

Meanwhile, latest report by the International Maritime Bureau IMB shows a drastic reduction of over 81 per cent in the number of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, including Nigeria for the second quarter of 2021. It also reported an 80 per cent reduction in the number of cases of kidnap in the region within the review period.

Details of the report by Malaysia-based bureau show that while 33 incidents of piracy were reported in the last quater of 2020, only six cases were reported in the second quarter of 2021, indicating a reduction by 27, representing an 81.8 per cent decline. The number of kidnapped crew in the region also declined from 50 in the last quater of 2020 to 10 in the second quarter of 2021, which represents an 80 per cent decline.

Only last week, two more ships were boarded by armed men in the eastbound lane of the Singapore Strait just a day after the ReCAAP ICS repeated warnings about attacks in the area.

ReCAAP said that two vessels were boarded by perpetrators armed with knives within 30 minutes of each other on 17 July in the eastbound lane of Traffic Separation Scheme of the Singapore Strait off Tanjung Pegram, Bintan Island, Indonesia. In both cases the perpetrators fled upon being sighted with items stolen while the crew were left with injuries.

The incidents came a day after ReCAAP told a media briefing that incidents in the Singapore Strait had increased in the first half year to 20, with 16 of these occurring in Indonesian waters off Bintan Island.

“As the perpetrators are not arrested, there is a possibility of further incidents off Tanjung Pergam, Bintan Island,” ReCAAP said, in an alert following the latest two incidents.

“All ships are advised to intensify vigilance and look-out in that area during night time, adopt preventive measures and report all incidents immediately to the nearest coastal State,” it had also warned.

Details of the report show that of the 20 incidents in the Singapore Strait, 19 occurred in the eastbound lane of the traffic separation scheme TSS while just one was in the eastbound lane. Out of the 20 incidents 16 occurred off Bintan Island in Indonesia waters during the cover of darkness. All the vessels attacked were larger, oceangoing ships, rather than smaller tugs and barges that are often targeted.

Of the incidents off Bintan ReCAAP said that seven were reported to involved perpetrators armed with knives and in two incidents crew were injured. It is believed multiple groups are involved in the attacks with some incidents taking place at very similar timings.

ReCAAP has issued four incident alerts relating to the Singapore Strait in the first half of this year. “To recommend the littoral states to increase surveillance and enhance information sharing, and particularly to arrest the perpetrators. And we also recommend the shipping industry to exercise the utmost vigilance in this area,” Kuroki said.