September 2, 2003

New tanker piracy warning
Gangs of heavily armed pirates using fishing and speed boats have this week been targeting small oil tankers in the Malacca Straits, according to the ICC's Piracy Reporting Center.
Issuing a fresh warning today to commercial ships operating in the area, the International Maritime Bureau says the recent wave of attacks follow a pattern set by Indonesian Aceh rebels.

Captain Pottengal Mukundan of the ICC's International Maritime Bureau (IMB)--whose organization manages the Piracy Reporting Center--says the latest attacks raise a number of serious concerns.

"In addition to the obvious threat to human life and potential environmental damage, we are very concerned about politically motivated attacks against vessels."

Captain Mukundan said there was evidence to suggest Aceh rebels are responsible for the growing piracy in the area. Their principal motivation, he said, is to fund their political cause by holding hostages for ransom.

"Political piracy threatens to rewrite the rules of engagement," said Captain Mukundan. "Authorities need to recognize the motives behind these crimes and adopt new methods of tracking and deterring them."

The frequency of attacks has increased, notes Mukundan. In late July, there were three attempted boardings in less than a week off the Sumatra coast in the Malacca Straits. Pirates fired automatic weapons at an LPG tanker, a gas tanker and an oil tanker. On each occasion, preventative measures deployed by the crew thwarted the attack.

In another recent case, the Malaysian-registered tanker Penrider was carrying 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil aboard when she was attacked some 12 miles from Port Klang, Malaysia.

The Penrider was en route from Singapore to Penang when a fishing boat containing 14 pirates armed with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles intercepted the ship. After robbing the crew and forcing it to sail into Indonesian waters, the pirates took the Master, Chief Engineer and a crewman hostage, leaving the ship to continue its passage. After protracted ransom negotiations, the hostages were returned unharmed.

A crewman on the Penrider told police the pirates were clad in fatigues and claimed to be Aceh soldiers. The Malaysian police have confirmed that the modus operandi was similar to that of an Aceh group thought to be responsible for many other attacks along the Straits of Malacca.

Although the attack bore all the hallmarks of being Aceh sponsored, elements of it have left officials wondering whether it was indeed the work of the rebels or that of opportunists copying their methods. It was the first such attack by Indonesian pirates so close to the Malaysian coast and so far South of Aceh.

Police have not ruled out the possibility that the Indonesian rebels may have been responsible and are working to establish the true identity of the gang behind the hijack.

Mukundan notes, "We need to determine if this is an escalation in political piracy. Politically motivated pirates are prepared to take greater risks to further their cause. We have seen the devastation that can cause in other parts of the world. Whether these attacks are politically motivated or not, the fact that vessels carrying sensitive cargoes are being targeted is a matter of great concern."

For further information, please contact IMB Director Captain Pottengal Mukundan in London: +44 208 591 3000.

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