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Cooperation in Asia Paying Off in Fight Against Maritime Piracy

By Steve Herman
Nalaguraidhoo, Maldives
21 May 2008

Unprecedented cooperation among Asian government maritime authorities is beginning to pay off, with serious acts of piracy declining in part of the region. But, as VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Nalaguraidhoo, Maldives, officials agree that more needs to be done as maritime attacks increase in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere.

Nigeria has replaced Indonesia as the world's piracy hot spot
Pirates have plied the world's seas for thousands of years.

Their modern-day counterparts continue to rob and kill. They have added a new twist - seizing ships not for cargo or money, but to take the vessels themselves for their own purposes, such as smuggling or possibly terrorism.

These so-called phantom ship incidents began escalating in the 1990's.

Nicholas Teo is the deputy director of the Information Sharing Center of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, known as ReCAAP.

"You had pirate people coming on board, tying up the captain and the ship is left underway, making way without a proper watch-keeper," he noted. "And, the crew were usually all be left in a lifeboat or have been thrown overboard and up to today some of the crew has never been found."

ReCAAP, initiated by Japan and greatly funded by Singapore, is endorsed by 14 countries. It came into force in September, 2006.

Unprecedented sea and air patrols by Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in the Strait of Malacca, a busy global shipping choke point, have led to Southeast Asia no longer being regarded as the world's most dangerous piracy zone.

ReCAAP Deputy Director Teo says data sharing among Asian militaries and maritime law enforcement agencies has also made a difference.

"That also gives the reasons for certain actions to be carried out, particularly in law enforcement and preventative actions," he added.

As a result, the region has seen a downward trend in pirate attacks over the last five-year period.

Although the situation in Southeast Asia has improved, the number of violent boardings of commercial vessels and pleasure craft is increasing elsewhere, notably in the Horn of Africa.

Nine of the Indian Ocean states have sent officials to a conference (of the South Asia Port Security Cooperative) being held on a resort atoll in the Maldives, to discuss how to work together.

There is no serious talk yet of joint patrolling of the Indian Ocean, as in Southeast Asia. The tensions among some of the neighbors in this region make such cooperation more difficult to accomplish.

India and Pakistan have fought each other three times, in the past 60 years. India helped Bangladesh win independence from Pakistan.

The chairman of the Chittagong Port Authority, Commodore Muhammed Farooque of the Bangladesh Navy, says his forces are doing their best.

"I don't think we have enough of a mechanism where we can immediately warn our counterparts over there," he said. "We have always, at least, two or three vessels out at sea - one carrying out inner patrol, the other carrying out outer patrol, extending to about 50 or 60 nautical miles from the coast. So it's very well taken care of."

Bangladesh says Chittagong is unfairly portrayed as among the world's most pirate-infested port. The commodore says minor thefts are too often reported as acts of piracy.

The port and shipping industries have taken their own security measures and are also here, at the Maldives conference, to talk about how they can work with government agencies to make the seas safer.

EJ Mathews is corporate security manager for DP World - the world's largest port operator, which is headquartered in Dubai.

"We need to look beyond economic interests or strategic interests," he said. "We need to forge a common front against the common enemy that we have."

The International Maritime Bureau says Nigeria has replaced Indonesia as the world's piracy hot spot. The African country's oil industry has become a lucrative target. The IMB reports Nigeria accounted for 10 of the 49 attacks registered, worldwide, in the first quarter of this year.

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