- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

BANGKOK — The pirates of the Malacca Straits, one of the world’s most important waterways, are mounting more serious attacks than ever before after recovering from the Dec. 26 tsunami, according to a recently published report.

Lloyd’s of London recently added the straits to its list of war- and terrorism-risk areas, and private military companies are offering their services to escort vessels through it.

About 50,000 ships use the straits every year, carrying a quarter of the world’s seaborne trade, including half its tanker-shipped oil.

For two months after the tsunami, when some of the world’s most powerful navies were stationed in the region, there were no attacks.

But an International Maritime Bureau report published July 20 says that since then, there have been 14 incidents in the straits, between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the Singapore Strait at its southern end, making the area the most dangerous in the world.

Capt. Jayant Abhyankar, the deputy director of the bureau, said: “What has changed is the nature of the attacks. People are now taking the crew as hostages and demanding ransoms. That is a worrying trend.”

In June, eight pirates in a speedboat attacked a Thai tanker with machine guns, taking over the vessel and kidnapping the master and boatswain, who were released only after a ransom was paid.

Two weeks later, 10 armed pirates hijacked a Malaysian tanker, hitting the second officer with a sword and threatening to kill the crew if it did not surrender. The alarm was raised after a sailor escaped and stole the pirates’ boat.

The danger has prompted Lloyd’s joint war committee to designate the straits as a war and terrorism risk. Shipowners, who normally take out annual policies, will have to approach their underwriters before going through it and a premium may be charged, with potential effects on global trade.

Neil Smith, the marine manager of Lloyd’s Management Association, said: “The number of incidents has come back to pre-tsunami levels, if not more. Sooner or later, one of these attacks is going to go badly wrong, we fear.”

The move was made on advice from Aegis Defense Services, a consulting and security firm headed by Col. Tim Spicer, whose company, Sandline International, became involved in conflicts in Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea. Dominic Armstrong, head of research and intelligence, said that pirates were from areas where Islamic extremism is known to exist.

“Automatic weapons and [rocket-propelled grenades] are traditionally used by insurgents rather than pirates. The pirates are now indistinguishable from terrorists in terms of the tactics,” he said.

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