Southeast Asia is winning the battle against piracy in the Malacca Straits but any reduction in vigilance could see a sudden return of high-seas banditry in the vital trade lane, a watchdog said Thursday.
The strategic shipping route between Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the Southeast Asian peninsula of Malaysia and Singapore was deemed the most dangerous waterway in the world by Lloyds of London only three years ago.
But attacks are dramatically down thanks to better cooperation among the littoral states which surround the narrow waterway, and experts believe a major hijacking like the incident off Somalia this week is now unlikely here.
In the year to September there have been only two pirate attacks in the straits, according to the Malaysia-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB), compared to 38 in 2004 and a peak of 75 in 2000.
“If pirates here were to try a copy-cat attack like in Somalia, it won’t be easy for them because the governments in this region won’t hesitate to take action,” IMB Piracy Reporting Centre chief Noel Choong said.
But he said pirates operating out of bases in Sumatra and outlying islands would strike again as soon as the littoral states relaxed their coordinated “aggressive patrols.”
“What we see is that the pirates aren’t being detained, they’re just lying low because of the aggressive patrols… We maintain our piracy warning for the Malacca Straits despite the stability of the region.”
The Malacca sea-lane carries about 40 percent of the world’s trade, including a major part of the energy imports of China and Japan.