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"Southeast Asia Receives a Mixed Scorecard from International Piracy Watchdog for 2017" by Ian Storey

2018/3, 17 January 2018

The International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) annual report for 2017 on the worldwide piracy and sea robbery situation paints a mixed picture for Southeast Asia, though the overall trends are largely positive.

Of the 180 reported incidents of actual and attempted acts of maritime violence across the globe (the lowest number since 1995), 43% occurred in Southeast Asia, up from 40.5% in 2016 and the highest of any region in the world (Africa was in second place with 32%).

As in previous decades, the largest number of incidents in Southeast Asia took place in Indonesia (43 incidents or 55%) though this was down from 49 incidents in 2016 and 108 in 2015, mainly due to efforts by the Indonesian Marine Police to improve safety at ten designated safe anchorages.

In the Philippines, the number of reported incidents more than doubled, from 10 in 2016 to 22 in 2017. Although the majority of these were low-level attacks in ports, pirates/militants conducted three successful attacks (and four attempted attacks) in the first quarter of 2017 in the Sulu and Celebes Seas which resulted in ten crewmembers being kidnapped and two fatalities. The IMB attributes the cessation of attacks after March in the so-called triborder sea area to the actions of the Philippine armed forces which increased military operations against the Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group and also rescued a number of crewmembers who had been abducted in 2016.

In response to the deteriorating security situation in the triborder sea area, in June 2017 Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines initiated coordinated naval patrols in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. A similar initiative launched by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in the Malacca Straits in 2004 led to a significant reduction in reported incidents in the international waterway. No incidents have been reported in the Straits of Malacca since 2015.

While the piracy/sea robbery situation in Southeast Asia shows signs of improvement, greater cooperation and coordination is still urgently required among the military and law enforcement agencies of the littoral states, the shipping industry and external countries.

Ian Storey is Senior Fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.