BY T. SELVA AND SHARIDAN M ALI
PETALING JAYA: The treacherous waters off Somalia used to be the world‚Äôs most dangerous marine passageway.
That dubious distinction has moved a lot closer to home, with the waters near Johor and Malacca now surpassing Somalia as the top piracy hotbed, according to the Inter¬≠na¬≠tional Maritime Bureau.
It attributed this to the rise in piracy off Indonesia‚Äôs Tanjung Priok, Dumai, Belawan, Taboneo and Muara Jawa ‚Äì where the waters have been marked as hot spots.
Although the Straits of Malacca remains safe for international shipping, the Kuala Lumpur-based IMB has warned mariners to take precautions when plying the 960km stretch shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
The major concern is the increasing number of attacks in Indonesian waters, which are between 45 minutes and two hours away by sea from Malacca and Johor.
With its thousands of islands and many river mouths covered with mangroves, the coastal region of Indonesia is ideal for pirates to hide and evade capture. Pirates operating in the Indonesian waters are armed with guns, knives and machetes and are known to be violent.
Of the 138 piracy incidents recorded worldwide in the first six months of this year, 48 were in Indonesia, the IMB said in its report.
While global piracy had dropped substantially, down from 439 cases in 2011, the trend in Indonesia, however, was increasing, it said.
IMB said high-sea robberies in the straits had dropped following agg¬≠ressive patrolling by the littoral states, but there were no indications as to how long this would continue.
IMB‚Äôs head of piracy reporting centre Noel Choong said the piracy att¬≠racts were contained in Indonesian waters and the enforcement agencies had prevented it from spreading.
He said they had told related agencies in Indonesia to take action so that the crisis would not spill over to the busy straits.
‚ÄúAlthough the cases reported were petty thefts, these robbers can still be dangerous to mariners,‚Äù he said.
Centre of Maritime Excellence Sdn Bhd‚Äôs chief executive officer, Datuk Capt Jaffar Lamri, said the close proximity of the attacks to Malaysia was a major concern.
‚ÄúAlthough the cases involved petty thieves looking for easy targets, these could spill into our waters if not contained.‚Äù
About half the world‚Äôs oil supplies and a third of global trade pass through the Straits of Malacca.
A maritime security analyst said the rise of piracy cases in Indonesian waters was due to lack of vigilance.
‚ÄúThis situation is made worst by the lack of economic opportunities.‚Äù
He said that big ocean-going vessels plying the route were aware of the problem and were on high alert.