- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

HONOLULU — Governments around the Pacific fear that Southeast Asian terrorists, especially those in Indonesia, will join the pirates who prey on merchant shipping.The International Maritime Bureau, which surveys the shipping trade from its base in London, said in a recent report that the terrorist attack on the French supertanker Limburg off Yemen in October showed that “maritime terrorism had become a reality.”U.S. military officials in the Pacific said their intelligence services are watching for a connection between terrorists and pirates.”We get a whiff of it every now and then,” one official said.More shipping goes through the South China Sea annually than through the Suez and Panama canals combined.Much of the piracy in Southeast Asia has been commonplace thievery, so far.The fear is that terrorists will scuttle large ships in one or more of the three narrow straits — Malacca, Sunda and Lombok — along the southern edge of the South China Sea to cause ecological disasters and force ships to sail much longer and more costly distances between East and South Asia.Sam Bateman, a retired commodore in the Royal Australian Navy, said targets for terrorists could include warships, cruise liners, tankers and other carriers. He added port facilities, offshore oil and gas rigs, energy pipelines and undersea cables to that list.Over the past 10 years, worldwide piracy has tripled, from 106 instances in 1992 to 370 last year. They peaked in 2000 at 469. Today, the maritime bureau reports, there are fewer attempts at piracy, but more successes. Indonesia alone accounted for 103 episodes, the rest of Asia for 115.In one incident, four pirates armed with long knives and riding in a speedboat boarded an unarmed container ship in Indonesian waters, tied up the master, the duty officer and a crewman, and stole cash from the safe in the master’s cabin. Hijackings of entire vessels rose to 25 last year from 16 the year before. Some had their markings repainted and superstructure altered to conceal their identities as they went back to sea. A few were recovered.Not every pirate assault has been successful. In the Straits of Malacca, six pirates in a speedboat tried to board a tanker but were driven off with high-powered fire hoses.In another episode, six pirates tried to board a liquefied-petroleum gas carrier. The crew switched on floodlights and blasted away with fire hoses to repel the pirates. A lack of cooperation among nations along the littoral areas of the South China Sea has hampered anti-pirate operations. The maritime police of one nation cannot pursue pirates into the territorial waters of another nation.The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has been unable to adopt a common strategy to deal with the menace.Mr. Bateman also pointed to a lack of trained maritime police, inadequate boats and equipment, and inexperience with complicated concepts of law enforcement such as the doctrine of hot pursuit. The absence of agreed maritime boundaries, particularly in East Asia, is another drawback, he said. An exception has been Malaysia, whose authorities the maritime bureau credits for “maintaining vigilant and constant patrols in the straits.” The number of attacks dropped to 16 in 2002 from 75 in 2000 in the Straits of Malacca at the western end of the South China Sea.Mr. Bateman has called for establishing or giving more muscle to Southeast Asian coast guards to combat piracy, drug smuggling, illicit arms shipments and human smuggling.

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