Maritime Piracy in South East Asia and Somalia


In the past decade the world has experienced piracy off the coast of Somalia with increasing regularity. Last year the most serious incident was the hijacking of the Sirius Star large tanker ferrying oil from the Middle East to Kenya. This is one of the incidents that resulted into the coming into focus of the international community, the piracy problem off the Somali coast. With the increasing success of piracy activity in the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa by Somali pirates, there has been an increasing anxiousness that pirates in Southeast Asia may adopt the same tactics and become a menace to South East Asian commerce. However there are several reasons which make such a possibility quite remote.

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Disorder on Land

One of the reasons that make it particularly difficult to replicate the piracy off the Somali coast in South East Asia has to do with disorder on land. In Somalia, pirates have free rein and go scot free from their actions as a result of operating in a country that is lawless. Good order at sea is normally the consequence of law and order on land. Land which is disorderly and lawless is more likely to have an adjacent sea which is also lawless which informs the Somalia situation. Piracy in Somalia has the necessary infrastructure created by disorder which enables the pirates to have a lot of support from land. While it may take less than a dozen pirates to hijack a ship there are many people on land such as the village to take care of matters such as guarding the ship and the hostages after which the spoils are shared. In South East Asia the situation is quite different except for some isolated incidents in the Southern Philippines; it is hard to find community support for piracy in the region. It is particularly hard for pirates in South East Asia to find a place in which they could anchor a large vessel and protect it from discovery or recovery. Nations in the region have also implemented strict laws against piracy on land in order to eliminate piracy from the required infrastructure. The instance of the enforcement of antipiracy legislation is one of the foremost reasons for the decline of organized piracy in South East Asia.

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Geography is also another difference between the Somali type piracy and East Asia piracy. South East Asian waters are relatively confined as compared to that off the coast of Somalia. Somali pirates have a large area of operation stretching from the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and all the way down the Coast to Madagascar. These waters are expansive and hence Somali pirates operate large vessels which support the smaller crafts that are used to launch the attacks. South East Asian waters on the other hand consist of numerous small islands and narrow shipping lanes. While these lanes are more suitable for piracy since they are suitable for quick hit and run expeditions, they do not support large scale operation which allow for the targeting of larger ships which are more profitable in terms of ransom. On the other hand weird as it may seem it is easier to hide in expansive waters rather than in littoral waters and hence the South East Asian pirates are disadvantaged. The instance of coalition forces off the coast of Somalia does not make it any easier to combat piracy since the forces combating piracy lack the capacity to monitor the expansive Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden in addition to hundreds of ships that may be targeted. The forces combating piracy are faced with insufficient capacity of identifying, intercepting and even boarding boats suspected of pirate activity. The vastness of the Indian Ocean simply makes it impossible to patrol effectively unlike the South East Asian waters.

Types of Attack

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The last reason that would make it very unlikely for South East Asian pirates to emulate the Somali pirates is the modus operandi of the pirates of the two regions. Somali pirates are usually bold and are made during the day with a blatant display of arsenal in order to intimidate the crew of the targeted ship. On the other hand South East Asian piracy is in most instances carried out in a covert manner under the cover of darkness with the pirates filching items of value they can find. In most instances also, the vessels which are attacked are usually vessels that are anchored in a port in which the security is not that good. Somali pirates have better arsenals and they are better organized having automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades which make it possible for them to operate in an expansive area. South East Asian pirates on the other hand are small time thieves and robbers who mainly engage in opportunistic piracy since they are hampered by range of operation, and a lack of sophisticated weaponry to facilitate major operations. South East Asian mode of operation involving vessels is usually the stealing of small vessels such as tug boats which are later resold under a false identity. While the use of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code has been effective in curbing large scale piracy of large vessels this is not practical in Somalia since pirates in Somalia are hijacked and stolen for ransom purposes as opposed to being resold or for their valuables.

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