The piracy situation in the sea area between Sabah, Malaysia and the Southern Philippines continues to be a concern and all vessels are advised to report to the relevant authorities prior entering or passing the Sibutu Passage and Sulu-Celebes Sea.
The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) recently issued its monthly report for 2017 addressing the piracy situation in Asia. According to ReCAAP, there has been a notable decline in the number of piracy and armed robbery incidents in Asia generally, but the situation in the Sulu-Celebes Sea and the waters of eastern Sabah continue to be of concern. In 2016 there were 16 reported incidents in the Sulu-Celebes Sea area related to abduction of crew, out of which 10 were successful. All successful attempts involved smaller vessels such as tugs, barges and fishing vessels/trawlers. It is worth noting that out of the six unsuccessful attempts, five involved bulk carriers and one a product tanker. The perpetrators are now showing an increased interest towards larger vessels as was reported in Gard Alert: Piracy in Asia – crew abductions of 9 December 2016. A brief analysis of the recorded incidents from 2016 seems to suggest that attacks in this area are more likely during daylight hours as compared to the hours of darkness. However, this does not suggest that the night time is any safer. Furthermore, the number of perpetrators involved in a single attempt can range between 3 to 17 men. In most cases the perpetrators were armed with firearms and would not hesitate before opening fire. As of January 2017, 16 crew members are still held in captivity.
In January 2017, there were two reported incidents involving vessels transiting the Sulu-Celebes Sea area. The first incident, which was an attempt on a container vessel, was foiled by the ship’s crew who outmanoeuvred the perpetrators. During the attempt to board the vessel, the perpetrators opened fire on the vessel. The second incident, which involved a smaller fishing trawler, was successful and resulted in the abduction of three Indonesian crew members and in the fishing trawler being abandoned. The trawler which was adrift, was later tracked by the Philippine Coast Guard On 19 February 2017, another successful attempt on a bulk carrier was report to ReCAAP ISC. In the incident the vessel was boarded by an unidentified number of pirates who abducted 6 crew members and shot dead one. The pirates destroyed all the communication and navigation equipment before escaping. The full report can be found here. On average, there has been at least one successful attempt in the Sulu-Celebes Sea area every month since January 2016. February, May and August 2016 being the only exceptions where no piracy related incidents were reported in this region. It is worth nothing that November 2016 saw the highest number of attempts on larger vessels. Recommendations In addition to the recommendations provided in Gard’s previous alert, all vessels should report to the Philippine Authorities and ESSCOM prior entering or passing the Sibutu Passage and Sulu-Celebes Sea. Source: GARD