A SPIKE in piracy and incidents of armed robbery against ships has prompted a call for vigilance by both the shipping industry and enforcement authorities.

Some 51 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia were reported to ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre from January to June 2020, almost double compared with the same period in 2019.

Of the 51 incidents, 49 were incidents of armed robbery against ships and two were piracy incidents, however, the severity level of incidents did not worsen during January-June 2020 compared with January-June 2019.

“We are deeply concerned with the nearly two-fold increase in the number of incidents reported in Asia in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period last year, even though most of them are at low severity level,” said Mr Masafumi Kuroki, executive director of ReCAAP ISC.

“‘Small’ crimes, if not addressed, can embolden criminals to commit more serious acts. This spike has come during a time of enormous challenges for the whole world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mr Kuroki said despite the difficulties caused by COVID-19, he encouraged the shipping community and maritime enforcement agencies “to uphold vigilance, make timely reporting and conduct quick response to incidents, in order to protect the lives of seafarers and the safety of maritime transport”.

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There were areas of improvement noted in the report, including no incidents at ports/anchorages in China during the period, compared with three during the first half of 2019.

There were also arrests of perpetrators at Chittagong Anchorage in Bangladesh, off Gujarat and Alang in India, off Pulau Batam, Indonesia and in the Singapore Strait.

However concerns were raised about incidents affecting ships in the Singapore Strait, with 16 incidents in January-June 2020 compared with eight during the same time period of 2019.

“The situation of abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah remains a serious concern as demonstrated by the abduction incident on a fishing trawler on 17 January 2020 off Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia and information of planned kidnapping by members of the Abu Sayyaf Group,” the report noted.

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