Desktop versionMobile Version
OpenEdition Books

The Resurgence of Sea Piracy in Southeast Asia

 | 
Éric Frécon

Introduction

Indexeinträge

Mots clés :

Asie du Sud-Est

Volltext

  • 3 Albert de Pourville, Chasseurs de pirates!, Les livres de la brousse, Paris, 1928, quoted in Denys (...)

1“Fugitives of unclear events, dancing shadows at raging fires, anonymous silhouettes of complicated nocturnal struggles, Pirates are not made for History, a majestic History that has wisely unfolded, where people and things take position with clarity around a Great Man: a motley, confused and buzzing crowd, they occupy the verges, in a hazy twilight and amidst sinister outbursts. Combats intermingle, bands wrangle, influences clash, incidents are superimposed; in this multiple and discordant brouhaha, none can recognise his own3.”

  • 4 On piracy and cinema, see Gérard Jaeger (dir.), Pirates à l’affiche: Les aventuriers de la mer dan (...)

2But who then are these pirates about whom Albert de Pourville speaks in such a poetic manner? Great grandfather will nostalgically quote Long John Silver and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. Grandmother will blush when the Hollywoodian attacks of Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate4 are evoked. Father would rather remember the first pirate radio transmissions that were broadcast from across the ocean, while the son will be happy to speak, with a smile, of Albator, le corsaire de l’espace (Albator, the Space Corsair) or Arthur et les pirates (Arthur and the pirates). But events such as those that took place in Southeast Asia in spring 2000 reminded one that in this era of globalisation, an ancient peril like the sea continued to exist: a few islands away, a Filipino information technology pirate let loose on the Internet the I LOVE YOU virus which was to create trouble the world over, while the Abu Sayyaf group took some tourists hostage in an island near Borneo. Today, piracy does not only represent a danger to intellectual property and communications, it continues to pose a threat to maritime traffic.

  • 5 Interview with the author, 21st September 2000, Kuala Lumpur.

3The images of pirates dissolve and intermingle, producing a notion which is “non stabilised from the sociological point of view” in the words of Gilles Huberson, diplomat and specialist on matters relating to terrorism.5 Should only boarding attacks at sea be considered as acts of piracy? The taking of hostages at Borneo was in any case never considered as piracy by the authorities in the Philippines. Of course, the incident took place not at sea, but on an island, that of Sipadan “lined by magnificent beaches of white sand”-which according to the travel guide Lonely Planet “attracts [used to attract?] divers, both experienced and beginners.” Yet, the historian will note here the resurgence of an old practice in force in the Sulu Archipelago as the illanun pirates kidnapped a number of Europeans here in the olden days. As for the media, they exploited the collective imagination by hoisting high the Jolly Roger. The taking of hostages by the Abu Sayyaf group in April 2000 perfectly illustrated this difference in the approach of the authorities, the researchers and the journalists, which plunged the public into considerable confusion.

4Piracy occupies an important place in each of us because it is deeply embedded in our childhood. It is not by accident that piracy is often found at the heart of the world of cinema. Every year between 1991 and 1994, a few hundred attacks were reported in the world. If this figure tripled in 1999, the year 2000 will have broken all records with 469 incidents recorded by the IMB (International Maritime Bureau). This total is 57% more than that of the previous year and four and half times more than that of 1991.

  • 6 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Maxwell Macmillan International, New York, (...)
  • 7 John Mueller, Retreat from the Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War, Basic Books, New York, 198 (...)

5The end of the Cold War has therefore permitted the emergence of a new order of maritime piracy. After the fall of the Berlin wall, academicians and politicians held discussions with the American President George Bush Senior on the “New World Order”. Some of them wanted to believe in the “End of History6”. The hour of globalisation had come; war finally became obsolete like slavery or duels in another age.7

  • 8 Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy”, Atlantic Monthly, February 1994, vol. 273, no 2, p. 44-76.
  • 9 Xavier Raufer (dir.), Dictionnaire technique et critique des nouvelles, PUF, Paris, 1998, 272 p.
  • 10 Jean-Christophe Rufin, L’Empire et les Nouveaux Barbares, Lattès, Paris, 1992, 255 p.
  • 11 Michel Wieviorka, “Le Nouveau Paradigm de la violence”, in Cultures et Conflits, no 29-30, 1996, p (...)
  • 12 I conventionally term “the new Middle Ages” the fall of the legitimate principle of power and the (...)

6Others announced “The Coming Anarchy”8. They saw the arrival of “new threats9”, “new barbarians10”, “a new paradigm of violence11”, “a new version of the Middle Ages12”. The return of the pirates in droves in the early 1990s is in keeping with this movement. Forty years of bipolar order give way to a disorder made up of a multitude of new perils

  • 13 Didier Bigo “Nouveaux Regards sur les conflits”, cited in Marie-Claude Smouts (dir.), Les Nouvelle (...)
  • 14 James Holden-Rhodes and Peter Lupsha “Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Grey area Phenomena and the New (...)

7The States which, until then, had been almost the only ones handling the global scene, saw their authority reduced to nothing by the emergence of Mafia-like groups, mercenaries with no real cause to defend. Was the Westphalian theory that, since 1648, acknowledged the State as an indispensable player in international relations, only an interlude? Would “the normal order” of things, some wonder, regain the upper hand13? As in the era of Ancient Rome, would the borders of the Northern Hemisphere-this new “Empire”-be threatened by the barbarians of today, barely identifiable and yet so worrying, who are chaos incarnate, haunting the “Grey zones” of the nation States14?

  • 15 Jean-Marc Balencie, Arnaud de la Grange, Le Nouvel Ordre local”, cited in Jean-Marc Balencie, Arna (...)

8The political motivations which incited the guerillas between 1970 and 1980 fell apart little by little, giving way to the deviance of the “lunatic” or to the more materialistic concerns of the “bandit”15. The Pirates would have more in common with the latter, even though some have links with political terrorists.

  • 16 Pierre Papon, Le Sixième Continent: Géopolitique des océans, Odile Jacob, Paris, 1996.

9Being immense, the oceans are much harder to control. 71% of the planet is covered by water, which renders almost inadequate the notion of the “sixth continent” developed by the former President of the French Institute of Research for Maritime Operations (Ifremer), Pierre Papon16. Of the 185 member nations of the UNO in 1996, only around thirty did not have access to the sea, and half the world’s population lives on a 50 km coastal strip.

10The “marinisation” of economies is more and more obvious. Oceans are overflowing with natural resources often vital for the coastal population and constitute veritable aquatic highways. Today, nearly three-quarters in terms of weight and around two-thirds in terms of value, of the global trade takes the maritime route. In addition, the oceans represent an important strategic factor where the straits play a crucial role.

11Maritime traffic is in a certain way a victim of its own success. The multiplication of possible targets favours the development of piracy. The problem is all the more serious for the region as the economies are growing more and more dependant on maritime routes. Eighty percent of the hydrocarbons used in Japan thus transit through the Malay Straits. Afraid that its supply of petroleum may be threatened, Tokyo has thus envisaged the possibility of having its freight take the Arctic route. The cost overrun incurred will however be substantial.

12Tokyo’s worry is triggered by statistics: in the Malacca Straits alone, 32 acts of piracy were reported in 1991. Between 1997 and 1999, following the intervention of the authorities in the region, only a handful of attacks were reported. But the calm did not last. In 2000, 75 attacks were recorded.

  • 17 Samuel Pyeatt Menefee, “Violence at Sea”, Jane’s defence, 1999, p. 99

13After having targeted the ports in Chili during the period of the nitrate boom, and later those of Nigeria enriched by petroleum, it was logical that this “sea serpent” struck the “dragons” and the other Asian “tigers”17. In 1991, 102 of the 107 acts of piracy perpetrated the world over had hit Southeast Asia (the South China Sea included). Nearly a decade later, the region was the stage for more than half of the 300 and later the 469 acts recorded the world over in 1999 and in 2000 respectively. Today, this zone would be the victim of three-fourths of the pirate attacks in Asia. The Royal Malaysian Police, and on a smaller scale, the Indonesian authorities, promised to take strong action and launched significant initiatives to fight the bandits who threatened the Straits in 1999-2000. But only two gangs have been arrested off the coast of Sumatra.

  • 18 We prefer the use of “Burma” rather than “Myanmar”, keeping in mind especially the non-Burmese peo (...)

14In order to tackle the question of piracy in the region, it is also advisable to study the former Malay archipelago, the South China Sea and the southern part of the Chinese coasts, given the extent to which these areas are interconnected. India and Japan are also affected; considering the importance of their influence and their interests in the region. The former, in fact, considers it very important to make its presence felt in the area, especially from its islands in the Andaman Sea as also through combined patrols. The latter contributes more to the security of the Malacca Straits. China too intervenes through the forum “Asean plus three”, which includes the members of the Association of the nations of Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Burma18, Laos and Cambodia) along with China, Japan and South Korea. Key players in the East-Asian game, China and Japan are in addition associated with thematic regional forums like the ARF (Asean Regional Forum), in which security issues of the area are studied.

15If the Asean is too small a platform to envisage the problem and if the Asia-Pacific embodied by the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) is too large to serve as the operational framework, “Asean plus three” seems to be more capable of fighting piracy, as long as it can affirm itself as a veritable regional diplomatic player.

16In any case, a number of nations are affected by piracy:

  • the coastal countries, direct victims of this epidemic in the South China Sea, in the Straits and the archipelagos;
  • the nations that are indirectly hit by piracy and who refer to it to affirm themselves on the Southeast Asian scene (Japan, China, even India);
  • the nations who are concerned by the fallouts of acts of piracy, when they receive, for example, boats hijacked in Southeast Asia.

17Maritime piracy in Southeast Asia may be envisaged from many angles, geographical as well as political (stability of nations and the regional balance), legal (modes of international regulations), social (origins of pirates, consequences of the Asian crisis), economical (commercial and financial repercussions) or environmental (ecological risks related to the nature of the ships attacked). We will try to study each angle, one by one, without neglecting the historical depths.

Anmerkungen

3 Albert de Pourville, Chasseurs de pirates!, Les livres de la brousse, Paris, 1928, quoted in Denys Lombard (dir.), Rêver l’Asie; Exotisme et littérature coloniale aux Indes, en Indochine et en Insulinde, EHESS, Paris, 1993, p. 179.

4 On piracy and cinema, see Gérard Jaeger (dir.), Pirates à l’affiche: Les aventuriers de la mer dans le cinéma occidental des origines à nos jours, ACL-Crocus, St. Sébastien-sur-Loire, 1989, 197 p.

5 Interview with the author, 21st September 2000, Kuala Lumpur.

6 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Maxwell Macmillan International, New York, 1992, XXIII-418 p.

7 John Mueller, Retreat from the Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War, Basic Books, New York, 1989, VIII-327 p.

8 Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy”, Atlantic Monthly, February 1994, vol. 273, no 2, p. 44-76.

9 Xavier Raufer (dir.), Dictionnaire technique et critique des nouvelles, PUF, Paris, 1998, 272 p.

10 Jean-Christophe Rufin, L’Empire et les Nouveaux Barbares, Lattès, Paris, 1992, 255 p.

11 Michel Wieviorka, “Le Nouveau Paradigm de la violence”, in Cultures et Conflits, no 29-30, 1996, p. 9 –57

12 I conventionally term “the new Middle Ages” the fall of the legitimate principle of power and the legal principle of the monarchies and democracies and their replacement by the principle of strength, of vital energy, of unions and spontaneous social groups." (Alain Minc quoting Berdiaev, in Le Nouveau Moyen Age, Gallimard, Paris, 1993, p. 9).

13 Didier Bigo “Nouveaux Regards sur les conflits”, cited in Marie-Claude Smouts (dir.), Les Nouvelles Relations internationales, pratiques et théories, Presses de Sciences Po, Paris, 1998, p. 333

14 James Holden-Rhodes and Peter Lupsha “Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Grey area Phenomena and the New World Disorder”, in Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, vol 2, no 2, Autumn 1993, p. 212.

15 Jean-Marc Balencie, Arnaud de la Grange, Le Nouvel Ordre local”, cited in Jean-Marc Balencie, Arnaud de la Grange (dir,), Mondes rebelles, Michalon, Paris, 1999, p. 11

16 Pierre Papon, Le Sixième Continent: Géopolitique des océans, Odile Jacob, Paris, 1996.

17 Samuel Pyeatt Menefee, “Violence at Sea”, Jane’s defence, 1999, p. 99

18 We prefer the use of “Burma” rather than “Myanmar”, keeping in mind especially the non-Burmese people who are subject to the toponymical purge imposed by the military junta since 1988

© Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine, 2008

Nutzungsbedingungen http://www.openedition.org/6540

Kaufen