Ships risk attacks in Malacca Strait

The Singapore Navy on Thursday warned of a possible pirate threat to ships passing through the Strait of Malacca after receiving a threat from an unnamed terrorist organization.

According to the Navy, the intent of the terrorists was to “achieve widespread publicity and showcase that they remain a viable group.” While the threat received covered only oil tankers, other large cargo ships were also at risk of attack, naval officials went on to say.

To reduce possible risks, the Navy urged ships to strengthen onboard security, including adding additional lights and lookouts. They also recommended that ships maintain a higher speed and report any unusual incidents to the proper authorities. The advisory said that past attacks in the Strait had been carried out by small vessels such as motorboats or fishing boats with armed crews. Commercial vessels were also warned to avoid known fishing areas accordingly.

The Singapore Navy said that it had contacted other countries in the area to warn them of the threat. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have also announced plans to increase patrols in order to provide additional security.

The Strait of Malacca is a major conduit for oil shipments. With around a third of global oil shipments passing through, it is the main route for travelling from the Middle East to Asia. Any attack on vessels within the Strait would likely have a major ripple effect on global trade.

Piracy in the strait has risen in recent years. There were about 25 attacks on vessels in 1994, 220 in 2000, and just over 150 in 2003 (one-third of the global total). After attacks rose again in the first half of 2004, the Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean navies stepped up their patrols of the area in July 2004. Subsequently, attacks on ships in the Strait of Malacca dropped, to 79 in 2005 and 50 in 2006.

There are 34 shipwrecks, some dating to the 1880s, in the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS), the channel for commercial ships. These pose a collision hazard in the narrow and shallow Strait.

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