piracy and sea robbery in the straits of malacca and singapore

The Malacca Strait is a vital communication line that connects the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. It is jointly governed by Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. One thirds of the global transport of crude oil and nearly a quarter of global trade go through this strait, which is only 37km wide at its narrowest point. But the Malacca Strait is now the most piracy-prone area, the pirate cases there once accounted for nearly 60% of the global pirate cases. The most risky area is located at 2 degrees north latitude, 102 degrees east longitude. It is highly likely that the merchant ships pass by here will be pillaged by armed pirates. ”2 degrees north latitude, 102 degrees east longitude” is a terrifying coordinate for all the captains and sailors.

What are the Malacca pirates like?

Malacca pirates are also known as the Indonesian pirates, but actually the majority of them are not pirates, but ordinary fishermen. Usually they fish on the sea, sometimes swarm upon the ships that break down or goes slowly, hit and run. Malacca pirates do not have the Jolly Roger, black masks, iron claws or barques. What they have are small sampans equipped with Yamaha high-power engines. Even with only such small boats, they dare to attack and pillage large ships. If they make it to get aboard, they will take all the cash; if not, they just give up and withdraw.

According to the statistics of the IMB Piracy Reporting Center, pirates in northern Malacca Strait sometimes are equipped with small arms such as AK-47s and M-16s. But the most pirates there have only the “tiger claws”. The so-called “tiger claw” is actually a metal hook with a rope being tied to its back-end. No matter in daylight robbery or secret theft, they just throw the “tiger claws” onto the deck of merchant ships, then climb up the rope to get aboard.  

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Malacca pirates are different from the Somali pirates, because they are usually in groups. The pirate gangs are well-organized. After they hijack the ships, they rob cargos and the belongings of sailors, then gain profit by reselling the cargos and ships.

Why pirates are rampant in the Malacca Strait

 The Malacca Strait is located between the Malay Peninsula and the Sumatra Island, and in the border waters of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. The strait undertakes one thirds of global cargo trade and half the global crude oil trade, and fifty thousand ships pass through it every year. The sea lanes there are long, narrow and crowded. Especially, its Singapore section is only two kilometers wide. Ships passing through there are vulnerable to pirate attacks. As the Malacca Strait is too narrow and crowded, so ships sail in pre-designated lanes in slow speed. As a result, they are easily caught up by pirate speedboats. Especially on some shoals where there is no space for zigzag acceleration when encountering pirates. By then, there is nothing sailors can do but watching the pirates surrounding them.

The history of Malacca pirates

There has been a long history of piracy in the Malacca Strait. And the most notorious pirate in this region was Chen Zuyi about hundred years ago. Chen Zuyi was born in China, but he fled with his family for his crime. Later he fled to the Malacca Strait and became a general in a local kingdom. When the local king passed away, he called up a gang of pirates, made himself the new king. During that time, The Ming China sent Zheng He’s fleet to the India Ocean via the strait. That was, the Zheng He’s Expedition.

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Chen Zuyi coveted the jewelries and wealth carried by Zheng He’s fleet, so he launched raids on the Chinese fleet. But Zheng He had learnt Chen’s plan in advance. He set a trap, captured Chen alive and brought him back to China for emperor’s punishment. This was also the earliest record regarding Malacca pirates in ancient Chinese history books.

The statistics regarding Malacca pirates

Between 1995 and 2013, 41% of pirate attacks in the world happened in the Southeast Asia; and between 2012 and 2015, 22 pirate attacks happened in the Malacca Strait every year on average. Different from the high-profile Somalian pirates who hijack ships for ransom, the Malacca pirates mostly adopt guerrilla tactics. They pillaged the ships for cash and the valuables, and then ran away.

According to the statistics of the IMB Piracy Reporting Center, only in 2004 there were 37 pirate attacks on record. If the statistics regarding Indonesian waters and the South China Sea are included, the number of pirate attacks was up to 169 (there were also 30 sailors killed), accounting for nearly 60% of the number of global pirate attacks in that year.

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The responses to Malacca pirates by relevant countries

To fight against the Malacca pirates, in 2015 the countries near Malacca Strait set up quick response teams and enhanced the intelligence communication. In recent years, Malaysian and Indonesian military have eliminated several pirate groups. By 2018, the pirate attacks and hijacks in the Malacca Strait reduced by 92%.

But the Defense Minister of Singapore warns that piracy and terrorism remain the threats to maritime safety in this region. Despite that the pirate attacks and armed robberies in the strait have been significantly reduced, but the related countries need to devote more so as to deal with terrorist threats. For example, the pro-ISIS terrorists in the Philippines obtained most of their weapons by sea.

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