Since 2019 through 2020, there is a sharp increase in the number of incidents of robbery and theft against ships while underway in the Singapore Strait (SS), compared to the period of 2016-2018. In 2019, 31 incidents were reported, and 33 incidents were reported in 2020 as of 20 Nov. The number of incidents during January-November 2020 accounts for an increase of 43% compared to January- November 2019 (23 incidents).
Although the majority of the 33 incidents reported during January-November 2020 were at a low level of severity [CAT 4 incidents where the perpetrators were not armed and the crew not harmed], the ReCAAP ISC is seriously concerned with the continued occurrence of incidents in the SS. In some incidents, perpetrators were persistent in committing crime by boarding two ships in a row within a short interval and in close proximity.
Without the arrest of perpetrators, incidents are likely to continue to occur. We remind that the incidents in SS decreased significantly from 99 incidents in 2015 to two incidents in 2016, thanks to the arrests of perpetrators by the authorities. This demonstrates that law enforcement is the best deterrence. In 2020, there was one report of the arrest of perpetrators in March but no further arrest was reported since then.
This Special Report is to alert the shipping industry and law enforcement agencies on the current situation of concern in the Singapore Strait and to provide an insight of the incidents, the modus operandi of the perpetrators and recommendations to the shipping industry and authorities of littoral States.
The ReCAAP ISC advises ship master and crew to exercise enhanced vigilance and immediately report all incidents and presence of suspicious small boats in the vicinity, to the nearest coastal State. The littoral States are urged to increase the patrol and enforcement in their respective waters as well as to strengthen cooperation and coordination among the littoral States for patrols and sharing information on the latest situation and criminal groups involved, in order to arrest perpetrators.
Incidents against ships in the Singapore Strait
Incidents in the Singapore Strait (2007-2019 and January- November 2020)
1. Number of incidents. During the period of 2007- 2020 (up 22 Nov), a total of 296 incidents were reported in the Singapore Strait, comprising 271 actual incidents and 25 attempted incidents. The highest number of incidents was in 2015 (99 incidents). There was a significant decrease of incidents in 2016 (two incidents) following the arrests of perpetrators in 2014 and 2015 by the Indonesian authorities. Graph 1 shows the number of incidents in the Singapore Strait during the period 2007- Nov 2020.
In 2020 (up to 22 Nov), a total of 33 incidents were reported. Of these, 29 incidents occurred in the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS), one incident in the westbound lane, two incidents in the precautionary area and one incident just outside (south) of the TSS. This accounts for an increase of 43% in the number of incidents compared to January-November 2019 (23 incidents).
2. Significance level of incidents. During the period 2007-Nov 2020, out of the 271 actual incidents reported, 65 were CAT 2 incidents, 46 were CAT 3 incidents and 160 were CAT 4 incidents [where the perpetrators were not armed, and the crew not harmed]. No CAT 1 incident was reported. The majority of the incidents were CAT 4 incidents (59%).
In 2020 (up to 22 Nov), one was CAT2 incident, four were CAT 3 incidents and 28 were CAT4 incidents. Despite an increase of incidents, they are at a low level of severity. Chart 1 shows the significance level of incidents in the Singapore Strait during 2007-2020 (up to 22 Nov).
Insights of incidents in the Singapore Strait (2007-2019 and January-November 2020)
3. The 296 incidents which were reported during the period of 2007-2019 and January-November 2020 (up to 22 Nov) had the following features.
(1) Number of perpetrators
44% of incidents involved 4-6 men, 26% involved 1-3 men, 9% involved 7-9 men.
However, in 2020 (33 incidents up to 22 Nov), 20 incidents (61%) involved 1-3 men.
(2) Type of weapons carried by perpetrators
62% of incidents had no information, 29% reported knives/machetes and 3% reported guns and knives.
In 2020, 26 incidents (79%) had no information, five incidents reported knives/machetes and two incidents reported no weapon.
(3) Treatment of crew
84% of incidents reported no injury of crew while 13% reported crew being assaulted, threatened or taken hostage temporarily.
In 2020, 32 incidents (97%) reported no injury of crew and one incident reported crew being assaulted.
(4) Stolen items
48% of incidents reported nothing was stolen while 14% reported loss of cash/property, 12% reported loss of engine spares and 10% reported loss of ship stores.
In 2020, 16 incidents (48%) reported nothing was stolen while six incidents reported loss of engine spares, five incidents reported loss of stores, four incidents reported loss of unsecured items and one incident reported loss of cash/property.
(5) Type of Victim Ships
36% of incidents occurred on board tug boats/supply vessels, 33% on bulk carriers, 22% on tankers, 6% on container ships, 2% on general cargo ships.
However, in 2020, 20 incidents (61%) occurred on board bulk carriers, six incidents on tug boats/supply vessels and six incidents on tankers.
Refer to Annex A on the “Detailed insights of incidents against ships in the Singapore Strait (2007-2020)”.
Observations of incidents in the Singapore Strait (From 2019 to 2020)
4. This section highlights the observations made from the incidents reported from 2019 to 2020 based on the location of the incidents and the modus operandi of the perpetrators involved. Refer to Annex B on the “Description of incidents occurred from 2019 to 2020 in the Singapore Strait”.
Location of incidents
5. From 2019 to 2020 (up to 22 Nov), a total of 64 incidents were reported in the Singapore Strait. Chart 2 shows the number and location of the incidents reported each month from January 2019 to November 2020 (up to 22 Nov).
Chart 2 – Location of incidents in Singapore Strait (January 2019 to November 2020)
6. Of the 31 incidents reported in 2019, 14 incidents occurred in the westbound lane of the TSS (between February and August of 2019) and 17 incidents in the eastbound lane (September-December of 2019). A cluster of 14 incidents occurred in the western sector of the SS to ships underway in the westbound lane of the TSS (red oval) as shown in Map 1. The other 17 incidents occurred to ships underway in the eastbound lane of the TSS [from northeast of Pulau Karimum Besar to northwest of Pulau Bintan] (green box) as shown in Map 1.
7. There was a shift in the location of the incidents in 2020. In 2020, 29 incidents were reported in the eastbound lane, one incident in the westbound lane, two incidents in the Precautionary Area and one incident just outside (south) of the TSS. A cluster of 26 incidents occurred in the eastern sector of the SS [north of Pulau Batam and northwest of Pulau Bintan] (green box) to ships underway in the eastbound lane of the TSS as shown in Map 2.
8. The observations of the incidents reported in 2019 and 2020 are as follows:
a. Increase of incidents in the eastbound lane of TSS in 2020. There was an increase of incidents reported in the eastbound lane of TSS in 2020 compared to 2019. Most of these incidents involved bigger ships (bulk carriers and tankers). The ReCAAP ISC is concerned with the continued occurrence of incidents in the eastbound lane and the persistence of perpetrators in their attempts to board ships. This was demonstrated by two incidents that occurred on 18 Jan, two incidents on 9 Feb, two incidents on 29 and 30 Aug, four incidents in October (two incidents on 13 and 14 Oct, and two incidents on 26 Oct), and three incidents in November (one incident on 8 Nov and two incidents on 9 Nov). Based on short time interval between the incidents, close proximity of the incidents, the number of perpetrators involved and their modus operandi, it is possible that the same group of perpetrators are involved in some of these incidents.
b. Decrease of incidents involving tug boats and barges in 2020. There was a decrease of incidents reported in the westbound lane of TSS as well as incidents involving tug boats and barges in 2020 compared to 20191. Some of the possible reasons for the decrease could be: (1) enhancement of enforcement efforts carried out by the law enforcement agencies in the westbound lane of TSS, particularly in the western sector, (2) drop of the market price of scrap metals in 2020 compared to 20192, and (3) under-reporting by ship masters due to various reasons3.
10. The observations are as follows:
a. 87% of the incidents (40 of the 46 incidents) in the eastbound lane involved bigger ships (bulk carriers, tankers and reefer vessel). Of the 40 incidents, 27 occurred to bulk carriers. All incidents in the westbound lane occurred to tug boats and barges.
b. In 20 of the 40 incidents involving bigger ships in the eastbound lane, perpetrators were sighted in the engine room. The perpetrators stole engine spares from the engine room in eight of the 20 incidents.
c. The perpetrators were opportunistic in nature, as evidenced by their ‘hit and run’ behaviour. They escaped immediately when sighted by the crew. In 25 of the 46 incidents in the eastbound lane, the perpetrators escaped with empty-hand (54%).
d. All the 41 incidents in the Singapore Strait involving bigger ships occurred during hours of darkness. 40 of these 41 incidents occurred in the eastbound lane of the TSS.
e. In 19 of the 23 incidents involving barges towed by tug boats, the perpetrators stole unsecured items and stores from the barges (83%). Of the 19 incidents, 13 occurred during daylight hours.
Arrest of perpetrators in March 2020
11. There was one arrest of the perpetrators involved in an incident in SS in 2020. On 16 Mar 20, three perpetrators who boarded a bulk carrier underway in the Precautionary Area in the SS (western sector) were detained by the crew. The perpetrators were handed over to the Indonesian Navy for investigation and prosecution. It is noteworthy that since the arrest, there was no incident involving bigger ship in the Precautionary Area and in the western sector of the eastbound lane
of the TSS. However, incidents continued to occur to ships underway in the eastern sector of the eastbound lane of TSS.
12. The ReCAAP ISC urges the littoral States to take the following measures.
a. Increase patrols and enforcement in their respective waters.
b. Strengthen cooperation and coordination of patrols and promote information sharing among the littoral States on latest situation and criminal groups involved in order to arrest perpetrators.
The arrests and prosecution of the perpetrators serves as a deterrence to other criminal groups operating in the area, as demonstrated in 2016 when the number of incidents decreased significantly following the arrests of perpetrators in 2014 and 2015 by the Indonesian authorities.
13. The ReCAAP ISC advises ship masters and shipping companies to take the following measures.
a. Conduct careful voyage risk assessment before entering the Straits of Malacca and Singapore
b. Prepare emergency communication plan
c. Adopt preventive measures taking reference from the ‘Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia’.
d. While transiting the Singapore Strait, ship master and crew are strongly advised to adopt the following measures:
• Maximise alertness of lookouts for suspicious small boats and increase watch keeping; particularly daylight time for barges and during night time for bigger ships.
• Maintain communication with their shipping company (periodic updates and daily communication checks).
• Report all incidents, suspicious activities and presence of suspicious small boats in the vicinity to the nearest coastal State and flag State.
• Sound alarm when sighting suspicious boats in the vicinity of the ship/barge or suspicious individuals on board the ship/barge.
• Keep abreast of the latest situation (at www.recaap.org) and tune-in to advisories and navigational broadcasts announced by the littoral States.
Annex A: Detailed insights of incidents against ships in the Singapore Strait (2007- 2020)
Annex B: Description of incidents occurred from 2019 to 2020 in the Singapore Strait
Detailed insights of incidents against ships in the Singapore Strait (2007-2020) Details of Analysis
Number of perpetrators. Of the 296 incidents reported during the period of 2007- November 2020, 78 incidents involved 1-3 men (26%), 129 incidents involved 4-6 men
(44%), 25 incidents involved 7-9 men (9%), 10 incidents involved more than 9 men (3%) and 54 incidents with no information available (18%). There is a deviation in terms of the number of perpetrators involved in incidents reported during January-November 2020 where the majority of incidents involved 1-3 men (61%).
Correlation between number of perpetrators vis-à-vis location of incidents in the Singapore Strait
Perpetrators of group of 4-6 men. Map 2 shows the location of the incidents involving 4-6 men during the period of 2007-November 2020. The majority of the 129 incidents occurred in the western sector of the Singapore Strait (black-dotted box) and in the eastbound lane of the TSS (blue outline).
See full report here