Bangkok, Jul 17 (efe-epa).- Piracy and armed robberies against ships in Asian waters in the first half of 2020 were at their highest level in five years and almost double that of the same period last year, according to a new report.
A total of 51 incidents (including one attempted incident) were reported in Asia from January to June, 2020, up from 28 (including three attempts) the same period in 2019, the Information Sharing Center of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP ISC) said in its half-yearly report.
“We are deeply concerned with the nearly two-fold increase in the number of incidents reported in Asia in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period last year, even though most of them are at low severity level,” said Masafumi Kuroki, executive director of ReCAAP ISC said in a statement Thursday.
“‘Small’ crimes, if not addressed, can embolden criminals to commit more serious acts,” he added.
The incidents – 49 armed robberies and two piracies – occurred in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, the South China Sea and the Singapore Strait, where the most attacks occurred, with 16 compared to eight in the same period of 2019.
Although almost all incidents did not cause injuries to crew, the center expressed concern about the Jan. 17 kidnapping of eight crew members of a fishing trawler in waters near Sabah, Malaysia, suspected to have been carried out by militants of Abu Sayaf, a Philippines group that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.
Three of the fishermen were found by the authorities, while another five remain in captivity.
One improvement the center highlighted during the same period was the arrests of perpetrators at Chittagong Anchorage in Bangladesh, off Gujarat and Alang in India, off Pulau Batam, Indonesia and in the Singapore Strait.
But Kuroki said the “spike has come during a time of enormous challenges for the whole world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, we encourage the shipping community and maritime enforcement agencies to uphold vigilance, make timely reporting and conduct quick response to incidents, in order to protect the lives of seafarers and the safety of maritime transport,” he added.
ReCAAP was formed in 2006 and is the first regional government-to-government agreement to promote and enhance cooperation against piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia. EFE-EPA