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Armed Robberies of Ships in Asia and Near Singapore Increase 19% in 2023

Incidents of armed robbery on ships in Asia increased significantly in 2023 and specifically in the region around the Singapore Strait and the Strait of Malacca. ReCAAP (Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery), however in its annual review of 2023 pointed to a few encouraging recent developments while saying more also needs to be done including efforts to eradicate the organized criminal groups operating in the area around Singapore.

The data highlights a nearly 20 percent increase in armed robberies during 2023, specifically with more incidents in which the perpetrators were carrying knives and seven cases where crewmembers were tied up. There was a total of 99 incidents and one attempted in 20233 versus 84 in 2022. The area around Singapore and the Straits of Malacca accounted for two-thirds or a total of 63 reports in 2023, versus 55 incidents in 2022. Other areas that saw increases included Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, while reports declined in Bangladesh and Malaysia.

“While the total number of incidents of armed robberies against ships in Asia reported in 2023 has increased 19 percent compared to 2022, several arrests of perpetrators have also been made in various parts of Asia by the relevant coastal states. These arrests serve as a deterrence and send a strong signal to the organized criminal groups that any acts of armed robbery against ships in Asia will be dealt with,” writes ReCAAP in its annual report.

ReCAAP classifies the activity mostly as the least severe level of incidents in more than half of all the reports and notes that everything was armed robbery. They define piracy as only being on the high seas noting that all the reports were in coastal waters. They also highlight that there have been no reports of abduction of crew for ransom in the region since January 2020.

While the overall increase was concerning, they highlight that with the intervention and enforcement from local authorities, incident reports peaked in the second quarter. While there were 34 incidents in the second quarter, the rate declined to 16 in the fourth quarter, which was the lowest quarterly level in five years. Two quarters in 2021 each saw 17 incidents and 18 in one quarter in 2020. The only lower level in the past five years was the 10 reports in the first quarter of 2019.

Most of the cases are robberies when engine spares are the most frequently stolen items. However, in a third of the cases, the perpetrators are scared off empty-handed. There was only one serious injury reported in the area around Singapore and the Malacca Strait, while in 53 of the 63 reports, there were no injuries. The perpetrators typically strike in the hours of darkness in groups between four and six people and when armed are most likely to have knives. The majority of the ships were underway when they were boarded.

The reports showed that most of the incidents were in the eastbound lanes of the traffic separation around Singapore. The incidents are grouped in areas near the entrance to the strait and as vessels approach the eastern terminus of the straits. The largest number (44) of the reports were aboard bulk carriers.

ReCAAP concludes that the strengthened operational cooperation and information sharing among the littoral states led to several arrests of perpetrators. They note that littoral states have stepped up enforcement efforts both on land and sea helping to reverse the trend of increases in robberies through the first half of 2023.


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