Pirates are masquerading as sea traders in ferries and small boats to identify vessels that are carrying valuable cargo or are easy pickings. Less gung-ho these days due to increased enforcement by the authorities, the pirates no longer just attack any vessel that crosses their path.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said that the pirates have become smarter and more cautious.
A similar tactic was used by a group of eight pirates who were caught in waters off Pengerang in south-east Johor late last year, it said.
MMEA southern region enforcement chief, Maritime First Admiral Adon Shalan, said that the pirates have become desperate due to increased enforcement by the agency and its counterparts in Singapore and Indonesia.
“Most of these pirates are more cautious now about which vessels they target because they are afraid of getting caught,” he said, adding that it was especially worrying for those operating in Malaysian waters because of our strict laws.
So, Adon said, pirate gangs have turned to using ferry boats and water taxis to ply the route between Batam and Malaysia or Singapore in order to survey any potential targets.
“Once these scouts find a worthwhile or easy target, another pirate vessel disguised as a sea trader will approach the marked vessel, offering to sell fruits, food or goods to the crew.
“While the crew are buying the items, the pirates are counting heads and checking out security measures on the targeted vessel before attacking,” he said.
Some of the pirates would even befriend the crewmen to try to find out what kind of cargo they were ferrying, he added.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the waters near Johor and Malacca have surpassed Somalia as the top piracy hotbed.
It attributed this to the rise in piracy off Indonesia’s Tanjung Priok, Dumai, Belawan, Toboneo and Muara Jawa.
The Straits of Malacca remains safe for international shipping but the IMB has advised mariners to take precautions when plying the 960km stretch shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
Identifying pirate vessels, however, is not an easy task for mariners and the authorities.
“Unlike in the movies, the pirates do not hoist a black flag with a skull and crossbones insignia, or wear tattered clothes,” said Adon.
The only clue is that the pirates usually travel in small boats because these are easier to manoeuvre and dodge the authorities with, especially in mangrove swamps located around some islets.
“They are usually armed with firearms and parang and will throw their weapons into the sea if cornered by MMEA patrols,” he said.
“Without the weapons, they look like ordinary fishermen or seaborne traders.”
Adon said that the MMEA has thwarted six pirate attacks over the past 18 months.
“Together with our counterparts in neighbouring countries, we have also increased our presence in international waters, in order to check on any suspicious boats near our respective waters,” he said.
Source: The Star