Piracy in Asian waters has hit its highest levels this year since a piracy watch centre started keeping tabs in 2006.
There have been 169 actual or attempted sea attacks reported so far this year, predominantly in Indonesia, the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca and Strait of Singapore, according to the ReCAAP Information-Sharing Centre.
The number of incidents, logged from January to last month, has surpassed full-year figures in the last five years, and the previous record of 167 in 2010.
Sea robbers are not only becoming more active, but also more daring and violent.
Piracy incidents are categorised from three (less significant) to one (very significant) in the figures.
There have been 12 Category 1 incidents, which commonly involved the siphoning of oil from one ship to another, so far this year – surpassing the previous record of eight in 2011.
While Category 3 incidents remained fairly consistent, there have been 71 petty theft or “minimum significance” incidents so far this year, just shy of last year’s record of 73.
ReCAAP stands for Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia.
The escalating violence in the region’s waters is once again in the spotlight, following the death of a Vietnamese sailor after armed pirates hijacked his ship in the South China Sea on Sunday. A gunshot wound was found on the right side of engineer Tran Duc Dat’s forehead.
The surge in piracy comes amid concerted efforts by countries in the region to watch over their waters.
They have taken part in coordinated patrols in busy waterways and deployed naval staff in a multinational anti-piracy watch centre, called the Information Fusion Centre, based at Changi Naval Base.
Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are still involved in joint sea and air patrols along the Strait of Malacca.
This was declared a “war-risk” zone in 2005 by the Joint War Committee of Lloyd’s Market Association – which represents the interests of those who underwrite the marine hull war business in the London market. It dropped the risk classification a year later.
Maritime security analyst Jane Chan said that while the spike in piracy looks worrying, the overall situation may not be as bad.
“The good news is that there could be more awareness among shippers, hence more people are reporting the incidents. The downside of it could be the fact that not enough is being done to stop or deter the pirates.”
The research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said it remains to be seen whether countries in this region will be willing to expand patrols to cover more areas.
She added: “Littoral states must decide if they want to go beyond patrolling and taking action in their own waters but also in the South China Sea, where more and more vessels are being hit.”