Maritime Piracy Threat in the Region: Trends and Actions

3 Mar 2017 – Phoenix or Hydra? Like these creatures of Greek mythology, pirates never die. But, much worse, decapitate a gang somewhere; new ones will emerge somewhere else.

This is particularly true in Southeast Asia since the 1990s. After a recent peak of piracy and armed robbery against ships off Singapore in 2014-2015, the phenomenon is now moving into the Sulu Sea. This shift evokes questions on the sociological and maybe ethnic backgrounds of these criminals: are there any similarities or commonalities between the attacks in the Malacca and the Makassar Straits? Is it just one more break before a new comeback off the Riau Islands? After the Sulu Sea, should one anticipate a next rarely known or underestimated hotspot in the region, e.g. off Sumatra-East?

The answer will be closely linked not only to the roots of the threat but also to the reaction of the national law enforcement agencies at sea. Besides their level of readiness and their equipment, it is time to focus on the law enforcement models or organisations at sea. Because of the multifaceted character of the state or criminal actors at sea, law enforcement agencies have now to be more flexible. The idea will be to highlight not only the various initiatives – i.e. coordinating board (like in Indonesia), rival bodies (like in Malaysia), separated but cooperative agencies (like in Singapore), foreign aid and influence (Philippines) – but also the national factors: the so-called ‘maritime cultures’, legal systems, political agenda, corruption, etc. More generally, this issue touches upon the new roles of police and armed forces in Southeast Asia, as policemen are increasingly involved in the defence of the sovereignty, while soldiers track not only foreign navies but also pirates and smugglers. These security trends, along a wide continuum from peace to war, symbolize the new paradigm of the post-Cold War International Relations.

Will polices, coast-guards and navies be able to work together to counter piracy and armed robbery against ships?

This meeting on Friday morning focused largely on Indonesia, because of the presidential project: namely the “Global Maritime Fulcrum”.


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