Copyright 2005 British Broadcasting Corporation  
BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific - Political
Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring

February 7, 2005, Monday

LENGTH: 544 words

HEADLINE: Malacca Straits remains one of most dangerous shipping lanes in world - report

SOURCE: The Straits Times web site, Singapore, in English 7 Feb 05

Text of report by Singapore newspaper The Straits Times web site on 7 February

While the number of pirate attacks dropped worldwide last year, Indonesian waters and stretches of the Malacca Straits continue to be among the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world.

According to the 2004 piracy report from the London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB), there were more kidnappings in the Malacca Straits last year than anywhere else in the world. In total, 36 crew members were kidnapped for ransom, with four killed and three injured.

However, there are positive signs. Worldwide, the number of attacks dropped to 325 last year, from 445 in 2003. In Indonesia, attacks fell from 121 in 2003 to 93 last year.

Beefed-up naval patrols in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore that started in July likely contributed to a decline in the number of attacks in the second half of last year, compared with the first six months.

The most significant drop was in the Singapore Straits, where there has been only one incident since July, compared with seven incidents in the first six months, said the IMB's deputy director Capt Jayant Abhyankar.

But while the IMB welcomed the decline, it also expressed concern at the increasing levels of violence in certain "hot spots", including killings, kidnappings and the hijacking of tugs and barges in Indonesian waters, the northern Malacca Straits and off North Sumatra.

In the past, these attacks were suspected of being the sole work of Aceh rebels but, according to the IMB's report, there is increasing evidence of "crime syndicates operating from fishing boats and staging copycat kidnappings which they see as an easy way to make money".

The four crewmen who were killed were taken hostage from an Indonesian tanker hijacked in the straits in January last year.

After a month of negotiations with the vessel's owners, the pirates shot all four men.

In a second incident a month later, pirates armed with M16 rifles hijacked a Malaysian fishing trawler and took the skipper and nine crew to Aceh as hostages.

They were released three days later after the ship's owner paid a ransom understood to be less than the 500,000 Malaysian ringgit (215,000 Singapore dollars) demanded.

The last attack in the straits occurred on 15 December, when a master and an engineer were kidnapped from a tugboat.

The tsunami that struck 11 days later is believed to have obliterated all pirate activity since then.

Even areas unaffected by the waves, such as the central and south Malacca Straits, have recorded no pirate activity since the tsunami hit.

But the IMB does not expect this situation to be permanent.

"It is probably that once life resumes normally in North Sumatra crime will return and with it pirate attacks against ships," the report said.

"The pirates, like the rest of the population, have lost vital equipment and some even their lives. When the attacks resume, it is vital that the law enforcement agencies respond quickly and positively to prevent it being seen by criminals as an easy option."

When contacted, a Royal Malaysian Marine Police spokesman said that the joint operations and exercises with their Indonesian counterparts will continue.

LOAD-DATE: February 7, 2005