Incidents in Singapore Strait increased by 43% in Jan-Nov 2020, report finds

Therefore, 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 for the industry and authorities of littoral States.

Since 2019 through 2020, there is a sharp increase in the number of incidents in Singapore Strait, in comparison with 2016-2018. In 2019, there was a total of 31 incidents, while 33 incidents occurred in 2020 as of 20 November.

Although the majority of the 33 incidents reported during January-November 2020 were at a low level of severity (CAT 4), the ReCAAP ISC is seriously concerned with the continued occurrence of incidents in this region. In some incidents, perpetrators were persistent in committing crime by boarding two ships in a row within a short interval and in close proximity, the report warns.

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

…ReCAAP ISC says.

Incidents in Singapore Strait from 2019 to 2020

-Location of incidents

From 2019 to 2020 (up to 22 Nov), a total of 64 incidents were reported in the Singapore Strait.

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).

Location of incidents in Singapore Strait 2019-2020 / Credit: ReCAAP ISC

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.

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 in the eastbound lane of TSS in 2020 from 2019. Most of these incidents involved bigger ships (bulk carriers and tankers). 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, and three incidents in November. 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 also a decrease of incidents in the westbound lane of TSS as well as incidents involving tug boats and barges in 2020 from 2019. Some of the possible reasons for the decrease could be:

  • enhancement of enforcement efforts carried out by the law enforcement agencies in the westbound lane of TSS, particularly in the western sector,
  • drop of the market price of scrap metals in 2020 compared to 20192 , and
  • under-reporting by ship masters due to various reasons.


-Mondus operandi

The modus operandi of the 64 incidents that occurred to ships underway in the Singapore Strait in 2019 and 2020 (up to 22 Nov) are summarized below:

The observations are as follows:

  • 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.
  • In 20 of the 40 incidents involving bigger ships in the eastbound lane, perpetrators were in the engine room. The perpetrators stole engine spares from the engine room in eight of the 20 incidents.
  • 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%).
  • 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.
  • 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.



-The ReCAAP ISC urges the littoral States to take the following measures:

a. Increase patrols and enforcement in their respective waters.

b. Strengthen cooperation of patrols and promote information sharing among the littoral States on latest situation.

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.

-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 should 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 incidents, suspicious activities and presence of suspicious small boats 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 and tune-in to advisories and navigational broadcasts announced by the littoral States.


Explore more in the following report:

ReCAAP ISC Special Report Nov 2020

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