The navies of littoral states Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are in talks to extend joint patrols to the lower reaches of South China Sea in a bid to curb piracy.
Rear Admiral Lai Chung Han, chief of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), highlighted some of the challenges in conducting these joint patrols such as competing territorial claims in these waters.
“There is concern with the proximity to the contested claims of South China Sea, and we certainly don’t want those issues to be conflated. We are very focused on dealing with the piracy situation and none of us really benefit from letting this situation fester,” said Rear Adm Lai.
He also does not rule out the possibility of collaboration between certain militant groups and pirates in attacking Western economic interests at strategic sea lanes such as the Strait of Malacca.
“Of course when there is any doubt, we never rule out the possibility that the pirates on board, or the ship that has been commandeered, could also be used for terrorist purposes, and we have the means to deal with that,” added Rear Adm Lai.
Meanwhile, Colonel Steven Tan, commander of the RSN’s Maritime Awareness Group Maritime Security Task Force, mentioned in a recent piracy and sea robbery conference in Singapore on 23 April that details for extending joint patrol beyond the Strait of Malacca were “being work out” to respond to the rising numbers of sea robbery- and piracy-related incidents.
In the meantime, the Singapore-based anti-piracy watch dog Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) welcomed the joint patrol as the organisation has been advocating co-ordinated patrols in that area to combat piracy resurgence.
ReCAAP recorded a total of 23 piracy-related incidents on vessels anchored in the area for 2014, compared with only one incident reported in 2013. Prior to 2013, no piracy-related incidents were reported in South China Sea between 2010 and 2012, according to ReCAAP’s data.