Robberies on Ships Underway Continue to Rise in the Singapore Strait

robberies in Singapore Strait
Two tugs with barges were boarded with scrap metal stolen while they were in the Singapore Strait (file photo)

Published Nov 24, 2022 11:55 AM by The Maritime Executive

ReCAAP, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia, is again highlighting an increase in sea robbery incidents in the Singapore Strait. Several of the international programs monitoring and reporting on sea piracy and crimes against the shipping industry, have highlighted the overall decline in piracy while also sounding the alarm about the region around Singapore Strait. ReCAAP is again highlighting that the busy sea lanes continue to experience increased levels of pretty crimes, primarily robberies stealing equipment, spare parts, or scrap, often from ships underway.

Two new incidents were reported to ReCAAP within 30 minutes of each other on November 21, both by tugs underway in the westbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme near Singapore. In both of these incidents, large numbers of people, nine men in one and 14 men in the other, boarded barges being towed in the strait. They stole scrap metals and escaped. ReCAAP notes the similarity of the incidents while saying it is uncertain if it was the same group in both instances.

There was a similar robbery on November 9. In that case, the tug had the barge on a long tow (approximately 1,800 feet). A perpetrator boarded the barge and stole a mooring rope as there was no cargo aboard the barge.

Ten days later, on November 19, the crew of an unidentified bulk carrier reported that it had seen five perpetrators in the engine room while they were underway. The boarders were believed to have fled when they were seen. A search of the vessel could not locate the individuals and the crew reported that nothing was stolen.

While noting that these continue to be low-level crimes where the boarders rarely carry weapons and flee when discovered, the authorities still point to a strong rise in the number of incidents in 2022. Also, whereas in the past, when the reports were concentrated in smaller areas, they are now becoming more diverse between both traffic lanes. the precautionary area, and outside the zone. 

“The ReCAAP ISC is concerned with the persistent occurrence of incidents in the Singapore Strait,” they write in their new alert. “The ReCAAP ISC urges the littoral States to increase patrols and enforcement in their respective territorial seas/archipelagic waters,” while they also warn vessels to intensify vigilance and maintain look-out while transiting the area. 

With four additional incidents so far in November, ReCAAP reports that the Singapore Strait represents two-thirds of the reports in Asia for 2022. So far, there have been a total of 48 reports in 2022 in the strait with a total of 72 reports in Asia this year.  At the end of the first 10 months of the year, there were a total of 68 incidents, which compared with 64 in Asia in 2021. However, incidents in the Singapore area are up by more than a quarter with 44 reports in 10 months versus 36 incidents in 2021.

The increase occurred despite increased activities by local authorities. Indonesia reported at the beginning of November that it had arrested seven men that it believed were targeting shipping in the Singapore Strait.