Currently, pirates and armed robbers in Asia are operating for the purposes of theft. Primarily they board ships in order to steal stores and engine spares as well as personal possessions of seafarers. This type of attack affects all ships, big and small, in the region. Hijacking of ships for the purposes of cargo theft has been limited to small parcel tankers carrying refined products which can be sold on various black markets. Attacks, both outside and inside territorial waters, appear to be the result of intelligence-led planning by the pirates, with particular products such as gas oil or gasoline being targeted in well co-ordinated and executed operations. At present, kidnapping of seafarers has not been a major feature of piracy or armed robbery activity in this region. Therefore, criminal activity within Asia can be split broadly into the following categories:
Armed Robbery – In general this is opportunistic, sometimes violent, and occurs where ships are in coastal waters. Ships are particularly vulnerable when at anchor or when the bridge team are involved in navigating through congested waters and island groups. Theft whilst underway occurs in the SOMS, particularly those in the eastern approaches in the Singapore Strait and the South China Sea. The perpetrator’s primary aim is to board and leave the ship without being seen and sometimes turn violent when sighted or confronted.
Hijacking – The primary intent is the theft of oil cargo and it is noted that, regionally, these attacks are often referred to as siphoning incidents. Attacks have normally occurred during hours of darkness. They occur primarily in the southern region of the South China Sea; however, several attacks have occurred in the Malacca Strait. These attacks to date have been restricted to small tankers especially those with low freeboard. However, larger tankers should also take the appropriate precautionary measures. There is strong suspicion that the ships are targeted for the specific grade of cargo and indicates that the pirates possess sophisticated intelligence gathering capabilities. Ships can be hijacked for several hours/days and cargo is transferred to a smaller ship which comes alongside. There have been cases where the old identities of the ships were disguised and the seafarers cast adrift in lifeboats, setting them ashore in remote areas. Recent cargo thefts have demonstrated that pirates have knowledge of ship operations allowing them to disable communications, navigate and operate the cargo system. Additionally, there have been a number of incidents where tugs and smaller ships have been taken for resale.
Methodology – Unlike pirates in the Gulf of Aden and West Africa whom are known to use high speed skiffs and long ladders in boarding ships, the perpetrators in Asia often adopt the profile of fishing boats to avoid being noticed and use a variety of tools including poles, hooks and lines to board ships. Additionally, due to the distances involved, the use of motherships has not become widespread.
B. PORTS, ANCHORAGES AND SHIP TO SHIP TRANSFERS (STS)
In certain ports and anchorages, the risk of armed robbery is particularly high when the ship is at anchor or is drifting off a port for example close to pilot station or conducting STS. Armed robbers often adopt the profile of fishing boats and use local traffic to disguise their approach to those on the bridge of the targeted ship. Particular attention should be paid to any small boats attempting to pass close to your ship. The robbers prefer darkness to make their attack.
STS Operations The following precautions should be taken during STS operations:
- Vary the location of STS (if operations permit) to avoid setting patterns which can be exploited by criminals.
- Conduct STS transfer operations during daylight hours when possible.
- Ship operators should consider what security measures the STS Service provider will have in place for the operation. The Risk Assessment of the company providing the STS Service should be reviewed by the Ship Security Officer (SSO) and the ship’s Master.
- When STS operations are expected to be conducted, extra attention should be paid to the use of physical protection measures. As razor wire can potentially make it very difficult to complete a STS operation, other protection measures should be considered to protect the ship from attack in these cases.
- During STS operations or when adrift, equipment such as fenders, anchor chains and hawse pipes can provide a vulnerable point of access for attackers, and entry should be physically blocked.