SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Cases of armed robbery in the Singapore Strait trended upwards in the first half of this year, but the incidents involved a small proportion of all vessels using the channel, the Recaap Information Sharing Centre said.
Recaap is the sea crime watch group for Asia.
There were 27 cases reported between January and June this year in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes - seven more than in the same period in 2021, Recaap Information Sharing Centre added in releasing its half-yearly statistics on Wednesday.
The group said there were more piracy attacks and cases of armed robbery throughout Asian waters in the first half of 2022, with 42 reported incidents compared with 38 for the same period last year.
An act of piracy refers to attacks in international waters, while armed robbery refers to attacks within a state's territorial waters, said Recaap, which is the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia.
Krishnaswamy Natarajan, who is executive director of the Recaap Information Sharing Centre, said the increase could be partly due to the economic impact of Covid-19, which may have led more people to resort to crime at sea.
But he added: "There is a high volume of trade traversing the Singapore Strait - almost 1,000 ships passing through every day.
"The cases have been increasing but the numbers are small compared to the volume of traffic."
Krishnaswamy added that the increase in reporting could indicate confidence ship masters have that law enforcement agencies will respond to threats.
Of the 27 incidents in the Singapore Strait, 19 occurred in the east-bound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme, with a cluster of incidents off Pulau Nongsa near Indonesia's Batam island.
The perpetrators did not use weapons to confront or harm crew aboard ships in all but one incident.
In that case, they threatened a motorman with knives, pushed him to the floor and tied him up in the engine room.
The motorman managed to free himself and alert the other crew members, but the perpetrators had escaped with engine spare parts.
Most of the armed robbery cases in the strait were carried out after dark by two to five perpetrators.
They mostly targeted bigger ships such as bulk carriers and tankers, and stole engine spare parts, ship supplies and scrap metal.
To encourage ship crew to report such incidents to local authorities, Recaap Information Sharing Centre will be producing a catalogue on fishing boats operating in Asian waters for easy identification of perpetrator's boats.
"This will enable the ship's crew to describe the boat to the authorities when attacked by the perpetrators," said the centre's assistant director of research Lee Yin Mui.
The group said the first half of 2022 also saw a decrease in piracy and armed robbery cases across waters off Malaysia, The Philippines and Vietnam.
However, Lee warned that the threat of abduction of crew members for ransom remains potentially high in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Saba.
She added that the commanders of terrorist organisation Abu Sayyaf Group, who were responsible for such incidents in the past, are still at large.