The Philippine authorities have intensified its military operations to rescue abducted crew from previous piracy attacks and neutralize the Abu Sayyaf group while the overall such incidents across Asia are on a decline, an anti-piracy watchdog said Friday.
As of March 31, nine crew members from previous piracy attacks are still held in captivity, Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, or ReCAAP said in its quarterly report.
In the last two years, a combined total of 61 crew members of several ships were abducted by militants, of which 28 have been released, 17 rescued and seven killed, the report said. In January, two abducted Indonesian fishermen were rescued in the Philippines. ReCAAP urged the ship masters and crew to exercise extra vigilance while transiting the Sulu-Celebes Sea and the eastern Sabah region and report any attack immediately to the designated security officials.
In the previous quarter there was one attempted incident to board a ship in the region when a container ship, the Kudos 1 was attacked by pirates near Sibago Island in the Philippines’ Basilan province. However, the attempt was unsuccessful and the ship was safely escorted to Zamboanga.
Billions of dollars worth of commodities move to and fro on commercial ships in the vicinity of the Sulu Sea, according to industry estimates. Matters came to a head in mid-2016 when Indonesia raised safety concerns over coal shipments to the Philippines, as seven of its sailors were kidnapped.
However, the security situation is slowly improving since last year.
There were 14 piracy and robbery related incidents in Asia during the first quarter of this year, down from 27 in the same period last year, ReCAAP said. This is lowest number of such incidents across the continent for the first quarter since ReCAAP was established in 2006, its data showed.
“While one was a piracy attack, the rest were incidents of armed robbery,” its report said.
The improvement in the security situation comes about primarily because of the decrease in the number of incidents at ports and anchorages in Bangladesh and the Philippines, it said.
The incidents in the previous quarter were also less severe than those an year earlier, it added. Several arrests of perpetrators and recovery of stolen items took place in the process.
The economic stakes of tackling piracy in the Sulu-Celebes Sea region are huge. There are an estimated 55 million mt of goods that transit these waters annually, according to shipping industry estimates. Of particular importance are the Indonesia’s coal shipments from East Kalimantan to the Philippines. The country imports around 18 million mt/year coal of which over 88% is from Indonesia.
During January-March, no incident was reported from the Singapore-Malaysia region, ReCAAP said.
Singapore is located along one of the world’s busiest waterways, with close to 1,000 ships anchored there at any given time. A ship calls at Singapore port every two or three minutes — a total of around 130,000 ships a year — making piracy-free maritime passage in the region critical.