The Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) has emphasised that there is a difference between piracy and sea robbery and the media should know this as sovereign states respond differently to each incident type.
In a statement issued on 22 June, the SSA said that a study it commissioned showed that many of the incidents that occurred in Southeast Asia in the first quarter of 2015 should be classified as sea robbery.
Unlike piracy, which refers to attacks in international waters, sea robbery happens in territorial waters and is thus under the littoral state’s jurisdiction.
“The distinction determines whether a merchant vessel can seek protection from the navy/coastguard of the littoral state or from the navy/coastguard of the vessel’s flag of registry,” the SSA said.
Recent cases in Southeast Asia were mostly targeted at tankers carrying oil products.
The SSA study was done to determine the severity of threats posed to seafarers.
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The SSA emphasised that with an estimated 50,000-90,000 vessels transiting the Straits of Malacca and Singapore each year and even more sailing around the Southeast Asia and South China Sea, the probability of a merchant vessel, which implements high vigilance and looks out for robbers attempting to board it, being attacked is between 0.012% and 0.070%.
The SSA said, “The situation in the South China Sea is vastly different to the situation in the Gulf of Aden, where heavily armed pirates board vessels in open seas with the intention of taking the ship and its crew hostage for ransom payments.”
The SSA study, which analysed reports by the International Maritime Bureau and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) for the first quarter of 2015, revealed that only 14% of attacks on merchant vessels were classified as piracy.
The others were armed robbery, of which 46% happened when the vessels were in port or at anchorage. Crew members were unhurt in many of the cases.
The SSA advises captains to put the well-being of their crew first while complying with their companies’ instructions in the event their ships are boarded by robbers or pirates. The association added that the Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy can be successfully adapted for use in Southeast Asia.