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Piracy Still A Major Issue In SE Asian Waters Despite Global Decline

Pirate attacks on the high seas have fallen for a third straight year everywhere but Southeast Asia, the main route for oil shipments from the Middle East to East Asia.

The third-quarter report on piracy issued Oct. 29 by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) found that the number of pirate attacks in 2014 was 178, compared with 352 in 2011. Despite that decline, the report reveals that piracy worldwide is still a major problem: “In the first nine months of 2014, lightly armed pirates killed three crew, kidnapped five from their vessels and took 369 seafarers hostage,” the IMB said. “A total of 17 vessels were hijacked, 124 were boarded and 10 were fired upon. There were 27 further reports of attempted attacks.”

The IMB is an agency of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce, which helps set rules for cross-border trade.

Related: Oil Piracy Moves to Angolan Coast with $8M Heist

From July through September, five of the six vessels seized were in Southeast Asian waters -- the shortest sea route between the Middle East and China. The route includes the Malacca Strait, which connects the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea and the Pacific and which the U.S. Energy Information Administration describes as “the key choke point in Asia.”

IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan said he is encouraged by the overall drop in piracy. But he added, “[T]here’s been a worrying new rise in attacks against small coastal tankers in Southeast Asia. We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters.”

An unnamed captain of a Vietnamese tanker agreed, telling Bloomberg News that the waters of Southeast Asia have become more dangerous. His vessel, the Sunrise 689, was hijacked on Oct. 2 and held for six days. He said the pirates, who claimed to be Indonesians, had stolen part of his cargo of diesel fuel.

Related: Emerging Oil Venues Attracting Pirates

Indonesia has reported 72 incidents of piracy in period covered by the IMB report, including 67 armed robberies and five hijackings.

In the East African country of Somalia, along the Europe-Asia maritime trade route, naval patrols and armed guards aboard civilian vessels have helped prevent pirate attacks. As a result, attacks by Somali pirates dropped significantly in the first nine months of 2014.

Nevertheless, Somali pirates are still holding 40 people hostage and demanding ransom for their release, according to the report. “Some of those crew members have been held captive there for more than four years now, with fading hopes of immediate release,” Mukundan said.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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