Sea Transportation: Organizing Against Pirates


May 27, 2006: The success of the Indonesian-Malaysian-Singaporean region anti-piracy organization is showing signs of reducing piracy incidents in the Straits of Malacca (SOM) area. This is the busiest maritime route in the world, with a daily transit rate of about 200 ships. The latest development in the anti-piracy agreements is the final integration of maritime air patrols under a single command, which will rotate among officers of the three countries.

The success of the SOM maritime security organization is prompting the development of similar organizations elsewhere. Thailand is reportedly reaching out to India to establish a similar organization in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. Both countries have had problems with pirates in this region, which is not only heavily trafficked by merchant vessels, since ships headed for the SOM have to pass through it, but is heavily populated by fishing boats. India has noticed a significant increase in attacks on fishing vessels in the Bay of Bengal. Japan has proposed an even more ambitious initiative, nothing less than the creation of an East and Southeast Asian maritime security organization stretching from Sri Lanka to Siberia. About a dozen countries have already indicated a willingness to sign on, including Sri Lanka, Burma, Singapore, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and even South Korea, not usually noted for its willingness to collaborate with Japan. The U.S. Pacific Command, which initially proposed establishing such regional maritime security organizations several years ago has continued to champion the idea, which has found favor in many countries because PACOM has deliberately insisted that the US role be minimal.

There has also been progress in this regard on the African side of the Indian Ocean. With UN assistance, on May 5th Kenya opened a "Regional Maritime Coordination Rescue Center" in Mombassa. The center will monitor maritime safety and rescues (not to mention piracy) in the triangle bounded by Tanzania, the Seychelles, and Somalia. It will be working closely with an existing center in Cape Town that oversees the waters around the southern end of Africa and well north, in both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Piracy is not the only form of maritime crime that regional maritime security organizations are interested in, though it tends to be the most noticeable. Smuggling is thriving worldwide. Among the most popular items are weapons, drugs, and people (whether illegal migrants, slaves, terrorists, or fugitives from justice), merchandise (especially goods likely to be banned or heavily taxed in some countries, such as cigarettes into Europe or booze in Moslem countries), artistic and cultural items, illegally taken fish, and hijacked oil. The new anti-piracy efforts are making life more difficult for the smugglers as well.


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