Using sophisticated equipment and with help from Singapore and Indonesia, Malaysia polices territorial waters, curbing regional piracy.
By Grace Chen for Khabar Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur
The South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca off Malaysia, have seen recent¬†acts of piracy¬†targeting oil tankers, cargo ships and other merchant ships, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in Kuala Lumpur.
Though IMB tracks worldwide piracy, policing of national waters is the responsibility of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA). In an interview with Khabar Southeast Asia, Vice-Admiral Datuk Ahmad Puzi Abdul Kahar, MMEA’s deputy director-general for operations, discusses how his agency handles the piracy threat and how it goes about its duties of guarding the country’s coastlines and territorial waters.
Khabar:¬†What is behind the recent spate of pirate attacks in the¬†Strait of Malacca¬†and South China Sea?
Ahmad:¬†The situation is very much under control because of the excellent co-operation betweenMalaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian authorities.
On the well-publicised case where ten heavily armed pirates boarded a¬†fuel tanker¬†and made off with part of the cargo this April, an ongoing investigation by MMEA has confirmed it to be an inside job.
The first officer, chief engineer and captain are the main suspects because (all three) persons and personal belongings have gone missing. Imagine, even their slippers and toothbrushes are gone! It is unlikely they are being held hostage, as no crook would give their captives time to pack their belongings.
In the Tanjung Piai-Karimun Besar-Kapalajernih triangle, near Johor, where 13 cases of pirate activity were reported from January to May, we do not discount possibilities sea robbers may have gone south due to heightened security in the Malacca Strait.
Khabar:¬†What is Malaysia doing to counter this menace?
Ahmad:¬†At present, the MMEA has nine radar stations monitoring vessel movements along Malaysian coastlines including Langkawi, a popular tourist destination. Keeping an eye on merchant ships is a system known as the Traffic Separation Scheme, providing 24-hour surveillance to monitor vessel movement and speed.
Any ship reducing speed without a valid reason will automatically come under surveillance. Our Interceptor boats have speed capacities of up to 60 knots, (and) can easily reach a distressed vessel quickly.
Khabar:¬†Have any arrests been made?
Ahmad:¬†I am not allowed to comment on the recent cases as investigations are still ongoing, but we have had a record of past successes.
This would include the interception of an attempted robbery on merchant vessel Sky Jupiter at 1.1 nautical miles off the southwestern coast of Tanjung Piai, Johor in 2011. The six robbers were sentenced to ten years in jail and nine strokes of the¬†rotan¬†. MMEA managed to prosecute the six in only nine days, a record for the agency.
In 2012 alone, the agency successfully arrested 23 pirates, each sentenced to no less than 10 years, with caning. In another 2011 high-sea drama on the South China Sea, the agency and Royal Navy pursued a pirate tugboat with the help of helicopter support until the robbers surrendered.
Khabar:¬†What action is now being taken to heighten security?
Ahmad:¬†To beef up security in Malaysian waters, the agency will also be acquiring more assets in fast Interceptor Performance boats and ships ‚Äì the latest being the KM Marlin, a gift from the Japanese government ‚Äì to patrol the Strait of Malacca. It will also add an extra 30 new Interceptor boats, with speed capacities of up to 60 knots, to its current fleet.
In addition to safeguarding merchant vessels, MMEA’s core client is the Department of Fisheries. Under the¬†Sahabat Maritim¬†programme, the agency will be looking to the hundreds of fishing boats plying Malaysian waters to act as its eyes and ears and help with intelligence work on pirate activities.
Khabar:¬†Do you have any information about the pirates who have carried out recent attacks? Is a single group responsible for all of them?
Ahmad:¬†For now, exact locations of the pirates’ hideouts can only be left to guess work.
One theory has pinpointed the vast archipelago of islands in the southernmost part of the Strait and South China Sea. However,¬†crime¬†in the high seas inevitably begins on land.
In one case, where a barge carrying vehicle spare parts was robbed, the suspects were traced to a ship dockyard in West Malaysia.