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The Resurgence of Sea Piracy in Southeast Asia

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Éric Frécon

Chapter 4. The Stakes of Piracy in Southeast Asia

Entrées d'index

Mots clés :

Asie du Sud-Est

Texte intégral

4.1. Economic and Commercial Stakes

  • 261 Cited by Catherine Mitchell, The Captain Hooks of Today, American University, 1999, p. 1.

1As early as 1776, once the chapter of Black-beard, Bonnet and Kidd had been closed, British economist Adam Smith had pointed out that, “in general, the protection of commerce had always been considered essential for the defence of the Commonwealth and was therefore an indispensable component of the duties of executive powers261”.

  • 262 According to Mak Joon Num, only 0.01% of the vessels passing through the straits would be victims o (...)

2Almost two and a half centuries later, the threat of piracy over maritime transport still worries Governments even though on the whole, the probability of an attack against a huge vessel is quite low262. In Southeast Asia, as elsewhere, zones haunted by pirates are generally those, where the sea traffic which ensures the supply of provisions to the coastal states, is the heaviest.

Piracy: the hot spots

Piracy: the hot spots

Data from the IBM for 2001.

Trade exchanges in 1994 (billions of dollars, estimations)

Trade exchanges in 1994 (billions of dollars, estimations)

* proportion of national trade transiting through the sea lanes of Southeast Asia
Sources : WEEKS, S. SLOC Security and Access, IGCC Policy Paper 33, 1998

4.1.1 A threat to the “jugular artery” of Southeast Asia

  • 263 Captain of the ship Bertrand Lepeu, “Un regard politique sur la mer et la marine”, Defense, no: 94, (...)

3Today, “in terms of capacity, air – freight represents only 5% of sea – freight263”. Hence, it is clear that if the acts of piracy which strike the straits were to multiply, it could deeply affect commerce and trade.

4Already, the use of certain navigable routes could be reviewed, leading to an increase in costs for ship owners as well as to a decrease in profits for ports.

  • 264 Jean – Claude Pomonti, Le Monde, 28th April 2000

5The stakes appear crucial for an active region like East Asia. During the year 1999, 41000 boats transited through the South China Sea, that is to say, nearly twice the number of those crossing the Suez Canal and thrice the number of those using the Panama Canal. Three quarters of the traffic between the Near and the Far-East transits through this zone264.

6Since then, Inter-Asian traffic has been more active than Trans Atlantic trade. In the Malacca Straits, the passage of 220 trade ships per day in 1999 and more than 275 ships in the year 2000 was recorded. Around twenty-six petrol tankers transit daily through these straits. The movement of tankers here is thrice as much as in the Suez Canal and five times more than in the Panama Canal.

  • 265 US Pacific Command, Asia Pacific Economy Update, Washington, January 2000, p. 83. In 2000, the inte (...)

7These numbers highlight the importance of sea trade in Southeast Asia. In February 2000, the volume of goods transported by sea had crossed 1.5 billion tons. More than half the world trade tonnage transits each year through the Malacca Straits, through the Sunda (between Sumatra and Java) and through Lombok (to the East of Java), which represents 15% of the total value of international trade265.

  • 266 Ji Guoxing, Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) Security in the Asia Pacific, Centre Occasional Paper (...)

8The zones affected by piracy in Southeast Asia are therefore especially vital for intra regional trade, on which East Asian economies depend to a great extent. In 2000, 39% of the Japanese foreign trade and 27% of the Chinese foreign trade were carried out through the sea routes of Southeast Asia, representing an amount of $ 260.4 billions and $ 65.6 billions respectively266.

  • 267 André Vigarié, 1995, p. 17

9The total volume of containers in the East Asian ports has increased by 270% between 1985 and 1995. Since then, trade here is twice as much as in Europe267. It is no coincidence then if, in 1998, eighteen of the twenty most important ports for container ships were based in East Asia and if four of the five biggest ports in the planet catering to the needs of all kinds of traffic were located in Asia.

  • 268 US Pacific Command, January 2000, p. 82.

10Closely behind Rotterdam, (315 million tons) followed Singapore (221 metric tons) Shanghai (164 million metric tons) Nagoya (134 million metric tons) and Hong Kong (128 million metric tons)268.

11Another reason for the countries in the region to worry about piracy: their investments in commercial fleets. South Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan have caught up with Japan and Hong Kong and now have a large number of freighters. Together, these six nations manage 30.5% of world tonnage.

  • 269 Stanley Weeks, Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC): Security and Access, Institute of Global Conflict (...)
  • 270 Philippe Delmas, Le Bel Avenir de la guerre, Gallimard, Paris, 1995, chapter VIII.

12“Maritime highway”, according to some269, a “jugular artery” likely to trigger a “war of necessity”, according to others270, the Malay Straits must be rendered safe.

  • 271 Nicolas de la Casiniere, “Les Assureurs l’assimilent a du vol”, Le Marin, 17th January 1997.

13World trade and especially regional trade depend on it. Aware of the stakes, certain mutual insurance companies like the Hellenic War Risk Mutual even consider piracy as a “war risk”.271

  • 272 François Tourane, “Canal de Kraa: Le Panama thailandais”, Le Point, 27th July 2001, p. 39.
  • 273 John Noer, Southeast Asian Chokepoints, National Defense University, INSS, no. 98 December 1996.

14The abrupt condemnation of the Malay Straits or of the South China Sea would have dire consequences. One half of the world’s fleet would have to lengthen its route-either through the Tasmanian Sea (subject to the roaring forties) or through the Arctic Ocean that is navigable only five months a year. Other remedial alternatives such as rail routes, pipelines or even digging a canal in the Kra Isthmus in Thailand are being considered272. However, learning from the experience of the closure of the Suez Canal, the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), created in 1984 by the Secretary of State of American Defense, has calculated that the blockage of the SLOC in East Asia would trigger an increase of about 500%273 in transportation costs. Others estimate that, if it were necessary to divert the cargo through the straits of Lombok, Japan would have to boost its maritime trade by 10%

  • 274 Solomon Kane and Laurent Passicousset, June 2000.

15Today, the disappearance of ships and cargo due to piracy already cause direct losses to the tune of nearly $ 200 million per year274. Incidents where Japanese vessels alone were involved during the first six months of the year 2000 could have caused a loss of ¥ 820 million (€ 7.5 million). But the economic damages could have other dimensions too…

  • 275 Robert Redmond, May 1996, p. 169.
  • 276 Philippe Le Corre, “Recrudescence des attaques de pirates en mer de Chine”, La Tribune Desfossés, 8 (...)
  • 277 “High Rubber Prices Seen Vulnerable”, Reuters, 1st March 1996.
  • 278 Huang Wei, “The Anti – smuggling brigade”, Beijing Information, no. 19, 10th May 1999, p. 10 – 13.
  • 279 “11 Held For Smuggling Ringgit 650,000 Diesel”, The Star, 24th October 2001, p. 39.

BOARDING INCIDENT 11: PIRACY AND SMUGGLING, RAW MATERIAL ROUTES
Piracy is often linked to smuggling. Pirates, coming from difficult areas affected by crises, exploit the economic development of a region to fuel networks and parallel or marginal markets. In 1995, within a span of three months, 10,000 tons of rubber were thus dispersed in Southern China where it is easy for ships having doubtful registration to transit, unload and to continue their journey.
275
Strangely enough, the disappearance of cargo corresponds to the scarcity of natural gum in South China. Later on, two cases of hijack occurred just after controls in Thailand were tightened in order to stem the smuggling of rubber to China by land routes
276. Therefore, the only alternative solution for the smugglers was to take to the sea.
In March 1996, the seasonal hike in the price of rubber did not reassure the producers of the Asean. A short while later, an official of the Indonesian Rubber Association confirmed that their Thai counter parts had in fact lost a few shipments. In 1996, at least three shipments leaving for China were reported missing in the high seas
277. The escape of Lai Chang Xing which ended in Canada in December 2000, confirms that this problem is still of importance today. This businessman resorted to smuggling, transporting rubber, as well as other goods, not far from the port of Xiamen in South China. Since then, the Chinese authorities have strengthened their vigil conducted by the anti smuggling brigade founded in May 1999278.
In July 2000, the IMB confirmed thefts of zinc in the ports of Bangladesh. On its part, the case of
MT Petchem in the autumn of 2000 appears to confirm the dynamism of fuel trafficking. The pirates had siphoned off the shipment of petrol on board the vessel, before selling it to Malaysian fishermen on the Southeastern coast, who are more concerned about fuelling their boats than verifying the origin of the fuel.
On 24
th October 2000, it was learnt that eleven people implicated in the smuggling of diesel were arrested. The article in the Star did not mention the origin of the fuel279.

4.1.2. Piracy versus the tourism industry

  • 280 “Il était une fois… en Asie”, Quotidien du tourisme, 24th March 1992.
  • 281 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Travel Advice: Piracy at Sea, 17th March 2000.
  • 282 M. Jegathesan, “Unrest in Indonesia Fuels Piracy Attacks”, AFP, 10th October 2000.

16It is never good to read in a specialized daily that, “a group of twenty tourists were attacked by five men while travelling on a bamboo raft280”. Agreed there could be better publicity. In the beginning of the year 2000, the Australian Foreign Affairs and Commerce Ministry, had to alert its citizens on the danger that lurked in the waters of the Big Archipelago in Southeast Asia. Australians had been victims of various incidents in this region281. A short while later, the site of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its turn “strictly discouraged under any circumstance”, trips to Sabah, on the Islands of Borneo, before restricting the critical zone to the eastern part of the province. On his part, Noel Choong regretted that the image of Malaysia was being “tarnished”282.

  • 283 “Indonesian Seas Safe”, Jakarta Post, 3rd December 1996
  • 284 “Exclusive Interview with the Chief of Malaysian Navy – Vice – Adm. Dato Abu Bakar bin Abdul Jamal” (...)

17The stakes being of vital importance, some governments do not hesitate to boast of the safety of their seas, despite evidence to the contrary. In 1996, the Indonesian Vice Admiral Arif Kushariadi described the waters of the archipelago as being “quite safe”. Besides, he added that his war ships conducted daily sorties283. In spring 2000, in Malaysia, the Vice Admiral in-charge of the Royal Navy, quoting statistics of the IMB, declared that there was no reason to fear piracy which was considered to be “in control” thanks to the joint patrolling organized by Indonesia and Philippines284. Four months later, the number of incidents connected to piracy in the Malacca Straits reached the 1991 record.

  • 285 Agency Bernama, “Security Patrols to be stepped up”, The Star, 28th April 2000.

18The taking of hostages by the Abu Sayyaf group in April 2000 was a hard blow for the Malaysian authorities. However, the Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razzak continues to assert that the Island of Sipadan was well under control. It is true that he had decided to reinforce the presence of the Army in the tourist zones, the East coast of Sabah285 being foremost amongst them. A few months after the release of the hostages, the local police nevertheless spoke a language that was too similar to be credible, given the statistics of the IMO. ‘There is no piracy”, they claimed in Kudat, in the Sandakan or in Lahad Datu, with a nuance however. For the first time, it was observed, “that instructions came from above”, which obliged Government officers to abstain from mentioning piracy. Specific information was furnished at Semporna, port of departure of the famous Island of Sipadan where the hostages were captured. The Abu Sayyaf factor and piracy were termed as “sensitive, diplomatic”. “It’s Confidential,” it was even said. In order to complete this mission of regional promotion launched by the police, the local authorities had organised a professional fair dedicated to tourism in November 2000. Everything possible was done to attract foreign tourists. A competition of inflatable boats was even organised in the territorial waters of Sabah, in order to rehabilitate a zone hitherto closely associated with smuggling and banditry.

4.1.3. Piracy and foreign investment

19It is evident that if the acts of piracy adversely affect tourism, they are prohibitive for the potential investors concerned about the stability of their host countries. Piracy often seems to be a sign that a country does not have the so called “monopoly of violence” within its territory. As a consequence, investors worry about the safety of their personnel, of their infrastructure – oil-rigs etc., – and the transportation of their goods. Piracy being such a vector of psychoses, the Singapore Shipping Association categorically wishes to disassociate it from armed robbery at sea, which it seeks to project as one of the ordinary risks run in the seas.

  • 286 H. Chiew, “Indon Help Needed to Stem Piracy in the Straits”, The Star, 16th October 2000, p. 46.

20However, Malaysia is all the more worried, given that great efforts are being taken to develop Tanjung Pelepas and the region around Pulau Indah (towards port Klang) in order to create a major port capable of competing with Singapore as far as attracting investors286 is concerned.

4.2. The Diplomatic Stakes

21The role and regional ambitions of Japan, India and China and naturally of the Asean are closely linked to piracy. For these players of the diplomatic game, piracy has become a pawn amongst others on the Southeast Asian chessboard, since its management can either strengthen ties or create possible tensions.

4.2.1. Japan takes advantage of piracy to make a come back on the regional scene

  • 287 Nayan Chanda, “Foot in the Water”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 9th March 2000.

22As a preparation to the Tokyo Conference on piracy, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi had suggested that the efforts of the participants be concentrated around three objectives: the establishment of a regional body of Coast Guards, reinforcement of aid to maritime companies and the development of regional coordination in response to the attacks287.

23Japan was certainly able to reaffirm legitimately its willingness to fight against piracy. According to the figures of the Japanese Transport Ministry, nearly 100 of the 141 strikes on Japanese vessels had taken place in Southeast Asia (during the 90s). The idea of joint patrolling including Japan had thus been launched but had evoked strong reactions from the Chancelleries of the region, clear indicators of hidden interests.

  • 288 Nayan Chanda, “Foot in the Water”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 9th March 2000.

24The interests of these maritime patrols were clear to the Japanese. It was a question of a direct reinvestment on the regional strategic scene for the first time since the Second World War. It would be worth mentioning that Japan had already proved itself to be active on the diplomatic front – tour of the Japanese Prime Minister to Southeast Asia, organisation of the Tokyo Conference in 2000, proposal of an anti-piracy plan during the Asean + 3 meeting in November 2000 and the conference on piracy in 2001. At present, Tokyo seeks to cross a new threshold. According to Mak Joon Num, Director of the Maritime Institute of Malaysia, fighting piracy constitutes “a fairly good means” of gaining acceptance of Japan’s role in the safety issues in the region288. Though the project of organising joint patrols had been launched by Japan’s Maritime Safety Agency, and not by the army (section 9 of the Japanese Constitution), the coastal countries perceived it as a form of interference.

  • 289 Red Alert, “Japan’s New Eye in the Sky”, Global Intelligence Update, 15th August 2000

25The Japanese coast guards had also suggested chartering two long-range surveillance flights in order to thwart the pirate menace289. Some even fear that these sophisticated surveillance aircrafts in fact serve to spy on coastal states. They could, in fact allow Japan from its naval base at Iwakumi for example, to watch over the aerodromes, provision depots, missile installations and the naval infrastructure of the Chinese army as well as over the Spratly Islands or the Cam Ranh port in Vietnam. Therefore, Tokyo would be in a position to take pictures of strategic sites or even intercept communication. For the moment, only the checking of dubious Chinese vessels is openly mentioned, but funds to the tune of several tens of millions of dollars are required for this ambitious project.

26This onerous option obviously shows that the Japanese Government is contemplating the development of a force that does not confine itself to the defence of the country. It would therefore re-consider the doctrine that had been imposed on it in 1945 to incorporate threats to its vital interests. Therefore the stakes go well beyond the problem of piracy in Southeast Asia since, by re-outlining its safety zone beyond the famous 1000 mile perimeter of defence, Japan would symbolically settle its accounts of the Second World War.

27Is Southeast Asia really prepared for this? In any case, Asia wonders why Japan is keen to acquire the latest air – patrol planes with long range action whereas it is already equipped with a hundred P-3 Orion, two Boeing 767s, admittedly incapable of entering the Malacca Straits, but for which Singapore has offered to open its bases, in case of emergency.

  • 290 “Who’s Got What, Where”, Asiaweek, 9th June 2000, (source IISS).

28This new expenditure seems to be in line with a more general tendency to increase defence investments. In June 2000, the weekly Asiaweek estimated the Japanese military budget at $ 41.1billion, i.e., 1.1% of its Gross National Product as against $ 1.3 billion for North Korea, $ 10 billion for India and $ 35 billion for Russia290. If Japan executes this project, it could limit its dependence on the USA as far as military information is concerned, with due credit to the pirates…

  • 291 Muzi News, “China Goes it Alone at Asian anti – Piracy Conference” Lateline News, 28th April 2000.
  • 292 Mark Valencia, “Joining up With Japan to Patrol Asian Waters” International Herald Tribune, 28th Ap (...)

29In response to the Japanese suggestion of implementing joint – patrolling, Li Ding, a Chinese official in the Ministry of Public Safety, voiced the reservations of her Government on the subject of regionalizing the pirate issue during the Tokyo Conference. In fact, China, according to her, would already be equipped with its own resources to deal with this type of crime291. According to Mark Valencia, expert in maritime safety of the region, the reaction of Ms. Li could have been provoked by the fear of seeing Japan making a comeback in the waters of Southeast Asia, and challenging the Chinese supremacy292.

  • 293 Nayan Chanda, “Foot in the Water”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 9th March 2000.

30After the issue of the balance of powers in Asia that provoked a negative reaction from China, the Japanese proposal came up against a second characteristic of the regional diplomatic scene: Asean’s concern for preserving the sovereignty of each of its members. Some therefore opposed the idea of joint – patrolling and preferred a coordinated patrolling where each vessel would be confined to the territorial waters of its own country. Only Singapore has received the Japanese proposal very favourably, even offering to open its bases. But there again, the underlying strategic motivation should not be underestimated. Singapore is in fact anxious about the emergence of the Chinese as a power in the region. Moreover the island-state is equally concerned about the influence exerted by the United States. Obviously, Singapore would wish that Japan play the role of a counter weight293.

  • 294 Takahiro Fukada, “Japan to Participate in Joint Anti – Piracy Exercise”, AFP, 30th October 2000.

31In October, it was learnt that Japan was going to test one patrol ship and two aeroplanes in a joint operation with the Indian Navy, for research, follow – up and boarding of pirate boats294. A second exercise was announced for 15th November, this time with Malaysia. It took place successfully on the West coast of Malaysia. The manœuvres consisted of simulating a commando operation from a helicopter and a raft. Three Malaysian marine patrol ships and a Japanese vessel Shikishima also took part in this swift exercise that lasted half a day.

  • 295 Interviews of the author with the maritime police of Kuala Lumpur and the Maritime Institute of Mal (...)

32As an extension to this operation, Abdul Rahim, in charge of maritime safety in Malaysia, suggested an intensification of the technical cooperation at the Asean level. It would involve the usage of Japanese technology to hunt down pirates in the territorial waters of the member countries of the organisation. This initiative, however, did not prevent Malaysia from persisting in rejecting Tokyo’s offers of regular patrolling. Generally speaking, the Governments of the region would prefer a financial support that would perhaps be more efficient than simple joint naval exercises, but which would certainly serve the Japanese interests less295.

4.2.2. The Chinese Intervention in Southeast Asia

33In the early 90s, the maritime community pondered about the repeated strikes in the South China Sea. In 1993, observers attributed a certain number of pirate attacks to the political friction between China and Russia.

  • 296 Eric Ellen, “La Piraterie en 1994”, in Revue internationale de police criminelle, no: 3-4, 1994, p. (...)
  • 297 Frédéric Lasserre, Le Dragon et la mer: Strategie Géopolitique chinoise en mer de Chine du Sud, L’H (...)

34In the same year, seventeen of the twenty attacks that took place in the South China Sea involved Russian vessels. Moscow sent war – ships to the region with the explicit mission of protecting its maritime interests and the official accusations voiced against the Chinese coast guards abruptly brought down the number of incidents to two296. Later, it was Japan that was the victim of targeted attacks. Frédéric Lasserre narrates that a meeting between the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Qian Qichen and Japanese diplomats in Tokyo in February 1993 was followed by an appreciable fall in the attacks perpetrated against Japanese vessels297.

  • 298 Eric Ellen, March – April 1994, p. 3.

35Is it chance or a coincidence? It is difficult to differentiate between what is the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of ill – intentioned authorities from what is due to the influence of organised crime298. Were the motivations political or criminal? This has always been a nagging doubt. Admiral Thimio Mitropoulos, President of the IMO in 1994, had to go to Beijing to take up this subject with the Chinese authorities and to let them know of the anxiety of the maritime and trading community of Hong Kong. Throughout the 90s, this suspicion has fuelled the mistrust of the Asian ship owners towards China.

36Indeed, the situation in the Spratly and Paracels Islands is quite political. In the beginning of the 1990s, at a time of a more or less controlled withdrawal of the Russians and the Americans, these zones were at the core of all regional claims. China’s objective seemed clear: taking over the two small archipelagos rich in hydrocarbons of rare importance to maritime transport, for which they were even ready to exploit or stir up pirate activities.

37In May 1999, a Filipino vessel had been accused of having sunk a Chinese trawler along the banks of Scarborough, in the heart of Spratly. The incident took place during a period of tension between Beijing and Manila. Was it piracy, an indirect strategy by Manila or an act of bellicose politics? Here again, difficult to reply. At a time when classic conflicts between States are no more on the agenda in the region, manipulation of piracy could represent a means of ensuring in fact, a control over these strategic islets.

  • 299 Frédéric Lasserre, 1996, p. 243-250.
  • 300 “Shipping”, in Asia 94 Yearbook, Far Eastern Economic Review, p. 62.

38Chinese authorities have often been accused of collusion with the pirates and some times even of acts of direct piracy299. Beijing replied that the interception of vessels was in line with the anti-smuggling war300. However, this explanation did not adequately justify the inspections outside the territorial waters often for more than 500 miles off the coast. In 1998, the situation was such that the BIMCO and the IMB sent a letter about “the treatment of commercial ships in Chinese ports” on 17th August to Huang Zhen Dong, Minister of Communications. Ove Tvedt and Eric Ellen called for the opening of a dialogue with the Chinese Port authorities, the Department of Public Safety and any other maritime authority likely to attack a vessel in Chinese waters.

39On this occasion, the officers of both the organisations brought up the issue of several doubtful cases; one of them being the Vosa Carrier, detained by the local police in the port of Hui Lai after being intercepted by the pirates on 11th October 1997. According to a tried and tested method, the policemen had forced the captain and his crew to sign a confession admitting that they had committed acts of smuggling. Merchandise worth $ 2.5 million had been confiscated. In their letter Ove Tvedt and Eric Ellen then mentioned the famous Anna Sierra, regretting that neither the goods nor the boat could be restored to the owner in spite of the ‘fine’ -that could well be termed as ransom of $ 400,000 that had been paid. Eric Ellen and Ove Tvedt concluded hoping that light would be shed on the other two dubious cases Petro Ranger and Tropicana.

  • 301 Frédéric Lasserre, 1996, p. 247.

40In fact, these spectacular actions permitted Beijing to assert its authority and to affirm its presence in the disputed areas. Besides, many attacks had not given rise to any theft, probably because China was only seeking to stake out its territory301.

  • 302 Sainte – Croix Rauzduel, “Panama: Le Canal retrouvé”, in Politique internationale, no: 87, spring 2 (...)

41The American withdrawal in 1999 and the arrival of the Chinese economic groups like Hutchinson Whampoa on the banks of the Panama Canal had also evoked some anxiety. Did not the Chinese Government risk taking hostage maritime traffic in Asia-Pacific of the “Asian Mediterranean” at the mouth of the Panama Canal302? This improbable political scenario was in fact quashed as early as November 2000, when Hutchinson Whampoa entered into conflict with its Government.

  • 303 Reuters, “Asean – China Ties are Getting Stronger”, The Nation, 27th March 2000.

42If piracy can harm countries on the diplomatic front, it can also foster cooperation that can strengthen bilateral ties. Hence, during the discussions on the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea, piracy held quite an important place. The forum, which regularly brings together China and a few countries of the Asean, had the objective of calming down tensions in the disputed zones. The fight against trans national crime and piracy constitutes in fact a base for negotiations that is more consensual than the demarcation of boundaries303.

  • 304 Carlyle Thayer, Beijing Plans for a Long – Term Partnership and Benefits from Anti – Western Sentim (...)

43Here, the People’s Republic of China was able to show that it was ready to make concessions in matters of regional safety. In private, Minister Chen suggested cooperating with Manila in the South China Sea to tackle piracy in the waters of the Philippine Archipelago304. For the two countries, it was an opportunity to come closer on a very precise theme that could later lead to in-depth negotiations, concerning more litigious matters.

44The rather conflicting relationships that Beijing maintained with the maritime world were still to be improved. In this perspective, the Chinese have multiplied reassuring initiatives in order to facilitate the reintegration of their ship owners with the Asian ship owners. For example, the meeting held in late 1999 by the Minister of Public Safety, with the declared objective of intensifying the fight against maritime crime in a broader sense, is proof of this. Besides, the minister had strongly spoken at length on the necessity of creating a special department in charge of this issue.

45This firm position had been reiterated during the 71st session of the Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO, held in May 1999. Following an appeal launched by the Secretary General of the Interpol to coordinate the various initiatives in the framework of anti-piracy war, China had been the only country of the region that not only responded, but also did so with obvious enthusiasm.

46Since then, Beijing has formulated several proposals such as the setting up of privileged channels of communication, transmission of information concerning crime and the development of trans-national investigations.

47The efforts of the Chinese authorities had taken a concrete turn, as illustrated by the arrests linked to the cases of MV Cheung Son, MV Marine Master and MT Siam Xan Xai.

  • 305 P.T. Bangsberg, “Chinese Court Affirms Death, Prison Sentences on 14 Pirates”, Journal of Commerce (...)

48Moreover, the Peoples High Court charged 14 Burmese for piracy. The chief of the gang, Maung Htay Aung, was sentenced to death305.

  • 306 AP, “Asean Meeting Calls for Death Penalty to Curb Piracy”, The Shipping Times, 27th October 2000.

49Besides, Hao Yin Biao, in charge of Asian issues at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign affairs, had proposed the application of capital punishment for acts of piracy, during the international meeting which took place in Bombay in late 2000306. The IMB in any case had to emphasise in its annual report, the “key roles” played by the Chinese Centre of Research and Maritime Help, the Chinese Port authority and the Bureau of Maritime Safety of the People’s Republic of China, in locating the boats that had disappeared.

50After having been accused for a long time, the Chinese government from this point onwards passes of as a promoter of cooperation between the maritime industry and the administration.

4.2.3. India turns its attention to the East

  • 307 Jean Armand, “La Vocation maritime de l’Inde”, Bulletin of Marine Studies, no: 17, April 2000, p. 4 (...)
  • 308 Kwan Weng Kin, “Asian Governments not Keen on Joint Piracy Patrols”, The Straits Times, 4th May 200 (...)

51New Delhi has also taken advantage of the pirate issue to re assert itself in the region, whereas conventionally it had paid little attention to its seas307. During the Tokyo conference, India surprised most of the delegates by its resolution. Even though it is geographically at the periphery of the zone under consideration, its representatives have shown their sincere interest in the conduct of joint exercises, even lauding the merits of a combined approach308.

  • 309 Nayan Chanda, “After the Bomb”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 13th April 2000; on the latest Indian (...)

52This attitude is in line with the rapprochement that New Delhi has embarked upon with its Eastern neighbours309. The war against piracy represents an efficient means of opening up a dialogue.

  • 310 Anthony Davis, “Heading for trouble”, Asiaweek, 9th June 2000.

53India is at the threshold of a ten-year plan to develop its naval capabilities and to reinforce its presence right from the Arabian Peninsula up to the South China Sea. The country now claims to have the means of maintaining a strong military posture against Pakistan while at the same time focusing its attention on the vast oceans. Besides the acquisition of Russian equipment and the construction of new frigates, the Indian Minister of Defence, George Fernandes has undertaken several trips to the Far East. Agreements on the conduct of joint naval exercises were signed with Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia310.

54The latest example of the Indian ambitions in the region: During the meeting of top Government officials at the Regional Forum of the Asean, on 17th May 2000, at Bangkok, New Delhi emphasised the pirate issue. Indian experts suggested a workshop, which took place in Bombay, bringing together defence experts accompanied by marine officers from twenty countries including the Naval Attaché of the French Embassy in India who represented the European Union.

55The Alondra Rainbow case (refer to boarding incident 10) hijacked in Southeast Asia and found off the Indian coast after a fierce pursuit, could not have come at a worse time for the authorities. Indian Vice Admiral John De Silva, Director General of the Coast Guards, pointed out that the efforts recently undertaken by China encouraged the pirates to turn to Iran and India and his country had therefore endeavoured to intensify its vigilance.

  • 311 Ramola Talwar Badam, “BC – India – Piracy”, AFP, 18th October 2000.

56This progressive shift of the epicentre of piracy towards the sub – continent could justify the stand of the Indian Government as far as the fight against maritime crime is concerned311. It would particularly allow New Delhi to make use of its islands in the Andaman seas to equip itself with a real Southeast Asian policy to the detriment of its Chinese rival. It was no coincidence that in August 2001, the establishment of a base in its Andaman and Nicobar Islands was envisaged. The Indian Navy is trying to get progressively closer to the Malacca Straits under the pretext of supervising the entrance to the Bay of Bengal.

4.3. Environmental and Human stakes

4.3.1. Piracy, oil spills, chemical risks and radio active wastes

57The neutralization of the crew of a petrol tanker or the usage of inflammable engines represents a real environmental hasard, as illustrated by the Valiant Carrier case. On 24th April 1994, during a pirate attack, three Molotov cocktails had been thrown from a patrol boat moored to the stern of the ship, instantaneously engulfing the bridge in flames.

  • 312 David – Anthony Delavoet, 1995, p. 31.

58The incident could have turned into a catastrophe since, at the exit of the Singapore port the boat was loaded with 30,000 tons of highly inflammable chemical products that could have simply exploded. The crew was able to control the fire, but the vessel had drifted nearly three miles from Mapor Island before it could be brought back under control312. The danger is all the more alarming as the Molotov cocktail is one of the easiest hand made weapons to manufacture.

  • 313 Barry Hart Dubner, 1995, p. 8.

59Equally alarming was the incident that took place on 10th November 1991, when an oil ship weighing around 250,000 tons called Eastern Power sporting the Panama flag drifted for almost fifteen minutes without a pilot in the Phillip Channel (off Singapore coast). The pirates had tied up the crew and nothing could prevent the vessel from sinking off the coasts of one of the largest ports in the world313. Only Providence had saved them from a catastrophe.

60According to the annual report of the IMB, in 1999, 52 of the 300 attacks were targeted against oil tankers. If vessels loaded with chemical products were added to these tankers, nearly one fourth of the attacked boats would pose a serious threat to the environment in case of wreckage. It is true that the quantity of fuel, which transits through the Malacca Straits, is considerably high.

  • 314 Energy Information Administration, World Oil Transit Chokepoints, August 1999, p. 2.
  • 315 Energy Information Administration, Liquefied Natural Gas Fact Sheet, EIA, October 1998, p. 3-4.

61According to the Energy Information Bureau of the American Government, the quantity of petroleum transiting through the Malay Straits at the end of the 90s was 9.5 million barrels per day, as against 3.1 million barrels in the Suez Canal and 0.6 million barrels in the Panama Canal314. It would also be noted that almost three – fourth of the world trade of liquefied natural gas transits through the China Sea315.

BOARDING INCIDENT 12: A CAPTAIN REMEMBERS: “AT 10.30 p.m., FOUR PIRATES SEIZED THE LIEUTENANT”
Extract of a report in the high seas :
“On the [day and date] at 7:30 p.m., We entered the Singapore Strait. At around 10:50 p.m. the presence of four pirates armed with knives, who captured the lieutenant was detected on board. Following the triggering of the alarm, the pirates quickly left the boat. A roll call of the crew was made and then it was signalled that we did not require assistance. Over to Buffalo Rock at 23.38 hrs ;”
Extract from the report addressed to the Anti Piracy Centre in Singapore, the next day :
“The pirates were around twenty to thirty years old. The oil ship was attacked at a height of seven metres of freeboard. On reaching the dining room they tied up the sailor and threatened him, a machete at the nape of his neck, and asked for the captain and the money. Fortunately the Second Engineer entered the room, thereby foiling the pirates’plan (…) These men could escape by the gate on bridge number three. (…) The lieutenant who was tied up recalls that the pirates were at least as frightened as him. As for the boarding, we neither saw them approaching, nor leaving the ship. At that moment, four sailors were on the bridge. Two radars were functioning in that zone, as you can imagine, every body was awake. (…) Apart from the obvious danger to the crew it must be underlined that receiving such “guests” on board in this zone, is also dangerous for the boat and the consequences could be disproportionate, compared to a simple theft of a few dollars from the captain’s safety locker.”

  • 316 Robert Redmond, June 2000, p. 199

62It is probable that an oil tanker accident of such enormity could as a consequence precipitate international measures against piracy. Some even go to the extent of wanting them. In fact whereas plane hijacks attract public attention, maritime piracy rarely heightens public awareness. A serious accident in these regions would nevertheless be publicised in the media, probably far more than that of the Exxon Valdez, which sank in a deserted zone in Alaska. To the environmental damages of an incomparable magnitude, it would be necessary to add the terrible consequences on the coastal population, by the big ports of the region and the fall in maritime traffic. The consequences of a large-scale oil spill in the Singapore Island are certainly impossible to evaluate. Apart from the economical impact due to traffic interruption, one could think that the fishing industry, already threatened by pollution, would permanently disappear from this region316.

  • 317 Peter Chalk, 1997, p. 26.

63The long fertile stretches of the coast would also suffer long-term damages. The Vice Admiral of Thailand, Nitz Sri Som Wong was concerned about the risk which threatened the surroundings of Bangkok and Laem Chabing ports (Thailand). In fact, due to the high tariff in Singapore, several oil ships choose these ports for a stopover317.

  • 318 Cameron Binkley and William Potter, “Plutonium Shipments Safer by Sub”, in www.bullatomsci.org, vol (...)

64Another important ecological factor: Transportation of radioactive wastes and plutonium imported by Tokyo. Let us note that Japan is the third client of the reprocessing factory of the Cogema (General Company of Nuclear material) in France. The quantities of potentially radioactive material which transit through the Malay Straits, are therefore not negligible. Besides, conventional pirates are not the only ones that are concerned here. The risk, which swings between politics and fiction, lies in an unarmed, untrained crew being attacked. The cargo would then very likely fall into the hands of well-organised terrorists. Without extrapolating on its possible usage, one realises, for the moment, the capabilites of the gangs as far as ship hijacks are concerned. The risk is all the more plausible as the situation would have already taken place. In 1968, Israel could thus have directly or indirectly financed, the hijack of several tons of uranium oxide transported by the European Vessel “Scheersberg318 on the Mediterranean Sea.

4 3.2. Simply put, Piracy Kills

  • 319 Hervé Lionel-Marie, expert at the Appellate Court in Versailles, however notes that the statistics (...)
  • 320 M. Hand, “Indonesian Waters Hotspot for Piracy Attacks”, The Shipping Times, 4th February 1999.

65According to the obviously underplayed statistics of the IMB, between 1991 and 2000, 259 persons died319 and 1854 sailors had been taken hostage as a result of acts of piracy. Less detectable but none the less real, the psychological trauma of the victims never figures in the statistics. Besides, maritime companies had taken the human factor into consideration only from the late 90s320.

66Socio-political crises that have followed financial and economic crises from 1997 are probably related to the violence of the attacks. Sailors are often thrown into the water, where some of them drown. Nets of Thai, Vietnamese, or Indonesian fishermen sometimes catch their bodies. But in most cases the crew is abandoned in the sea on a little raft with a few days’provisions.

67The usage of weapons is another indicator of pirate brutality. If in 1996, 117 pirates were not armed, there was only one in 1999... Since this date, confrontations have been on the rise. The sailors are fighting harder to repulse attacks, which naturally causes the number of victims among their ranks to increase.

68This increase in violence supports the idea of a “new Middle Age” that some people announced on the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a matter of fact, in Europe, around the year 1000, maritime communities had taken advantage of a period of political instability and a favourable geographical context (proximity to important ports through navigable routes) to take to armed robbery at sea. Today, it is the turn of certain Malaysian, Filipino or Indonesian people faced with the Asian crisis, to succumb to temptation of piracy.

69The presence of Westerners amongst the hostages of Jolo could have ironically enabled a better understanding of the human factor. But it seems that one has to wait for the next incident, may be of an ecological kind, for the situation to return to normal in the neighbourhood of the big archipelagos.

Notes

261 Cited by Catherine Mitchell, The Captain Hooks of Today, American University, 1999, p. 1.

262 According to Mak Joon Num, only 0.01% of the vessels passing through the straits would be victims of piracy.

263 Captain of the ship Bertrand Lepeu, “Un regard politique sur la mer et la marine”, Defense, no: 94, August 2001.

264 Jean – Claude Pomonti, Le Monde, 28th April 2000

265 US Pacific Command, Asia Pacific Economy Update, Washington, January 2000, p. 83. In 2000, the internal and external trade of Asia had attained € 162 billions through exports and € 277 billions through imports. These figures were cited by André Vigarié in “Lombok et la geo – strategie des mers du sud”, Journal de la marine marchande, 15th February 2002.

266 Ji Guoxing, Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) Security in the Asia Pacific, Centre Occasional Paper, Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu, 2000, p. 3.

267 André Vigarié, 1995, p. 17

268 US Pacific Command, January 2000, p. 82.

269 Stanley Weeks, Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC): Security and Access, Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation, Policy Paper 33, California, 1998.

270 Philippe Delmas, Le Bel Avenir de la guerre, Gallimard, Paris, 1995, chapter VIII.

271 Nicolas de la Casiniere, “Les Assureurs l’assimilent a du vol”, Le Marin, 17th January 1997.

272 François Tourane, “Canal de Kraa: Le Panama thailandais”, Le Point, 27th July 2001, p. 39.

273 John Noer, Southeast Asian Chokepoints, National Defense University, INSS, no. 98 December 1996.

274 Solomon Kane and Laurent Passicousset, June 2000.

275 Robert Redmond, May 1996, p. 169.

276 Philippe Le Corre, “Recrudescence des attaques de pirates en mer de Chine”, La Tribune Desfossés, 8th August 1997.

277 “High Rubber Prices Seen Vulnerable”, Reuters, 1st March 1996.

278 Huang Wei, “The Anti – smuggling brigade”, Beijing Information, no. 19, 10th May 1999, p. 10 – 13.

279 “11 Held For Smuggling Ringgit 650,000 Diesel”, The Star, 24th October 2001, p. 39.

280 “Il était une fois… en Asie”, Quotidien du tourisme, 24th March 1992.

281 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Travel Advice: Piracy at Sea, 17th March 2000.

282 M. Jegathesan, “Unrest in Indonesia Fuels Piracy Attacks”, AFP, 10th October 2000.

283 “Indonesian Seas Safe”, Jakarta Post, 3rd December 1996

284 “Exclusive Interview with the Chief of Malaysian Navy – Vice – Adm. Dato Abu Bakar bin Abdul Jamal”, Asian Defense and Diplomacy, May 2000, p. 28 – 34.

285 Agency Bernama, “Security Patrols to be stepped up”, The Star, 28th April 2000.

286 H. Chiew, “Indon Help Needed to Stem Piracy in the Straits”, The Star, 16th October 2000, p. 46.

287 Nayan Chanda, “Foot in the Water”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 9th March 2000.

288 Nayan Chanda, “Foot in the Water”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 9th March 2000.

289 Red Alert, “Japan’s New Eye in the Sky”, Global Intelligence Update, 15th August 2000

290 “Who’s Got What, Where”, Asiaweek, 9th June 2000, (source IISS).

291 Muzi News, “China Goes it Alone at Asian anti – Piracy Conference” Lateline News, 28th April 2000.

292 Mark Valencia, “Joining up With Japan to Patrol Asian Waters” International Herald Tribune, 28th April 2000, p. 6.

293 Nayan Chanda, “Foot in the Water”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 9th March 2000.

294 Takahiro Fukada, “Japan to Participate in Joint Anti – Piracy Exercise”, AFP, 30th October 2000.

295 Interviews of the author with the maritime police of Kuala Lumpur and the Maritime Institute of Malaysia, on the 8th and 9th April 2002.

296 Eric Ellen, “La Piraterie en 1994”, in Revue internationale de police criminelle, no: 3-4, 1994, p. 5.

297 Frédéric Lasserre, Le Dragon et la mer: Strategie Géopolitique chinoise en mer de Chine du Sud, L’Harmattan, Montreal, 1996, p. 247.

298 Eric Ellen, March – April 1994, p. 3.

299 Frédéric Lasserre, 1996, p. 243-250.

300 “Shipping”, in Asia 94 Yearbook, Far Eastern Economic Review, p. 62.

301 Frédéric Lasserre, 1996, p. 247.

302 Sainte – Croix Rauzduel, “Panama: Le Canal retrouvé”, in Politique internationale, no: 87, spring 2000, p. 240.

303 Reuters, “Asean – China Ties are Getting Stronger”, The Nation, 27th March 2000.

304 Carlyle Thayer, Beijing Plans for a Long – Term Partnership and Benefits from Anti – Western Sentiment, Pacific Forum CSIS, October 1999, p. 1.

305 P.T. Bangsberg, “Chinese Court Affirms Death, Prison Sentences on 14 Pirates”, Journal of Commerce online, 22nd August 2000.

306 AP, “Asean Meeting Calls for Death Penalty to Curb Piracy”, The Shipping Times, 27th October 2000.

307 Jean Armand, “La Vocation maritime de l’Inde”, Bulletin of Marine Studies, no: 17, April 2000, p. 47.

308 Kwan Weng Kin, “Asian Governments not Keen on Joint Piracy Patrols”, The Straits Times, 4th May 2000.

309 Nayan Chanda, “After the Bomb”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 13th April 2000; on the latest Indian strategy on this issue, Frédéric Grare and Amitabh Mattoo (dir.), India and Asean – The Politics of India’s Look East Policy, Centre of Humanities – Institute of Southeast Asian Studies – Centre for Study of National Security Policy – Manohar, New Delhi – Singapore, 2001, p. 248. could be consulted.

310 Anthony Davis, “Heading for trouble”, Asiaweek, 9th June 2000.

311 Ramola Talwar Badam, “BC – India – Piracy”, AFP, 18th October 2000.

312 David – Anthony Delavoet, 1995, p. 31.

313 Barry Hart Dubner, 1995, p. 8.

314 Energy Information Administration, World Oil Transit Chokepoints, August 1999, p. 2.

315 Energy Information Administration, Liquefied Natural Gas Fact Sheet, EIA, October 1998, p. 3-4.

316 Robert Redmond, June 2000, p. 199

317 Peter Chalk, 1997, p. 26.

318 Cameron Binkley and William Potter, “Plutonium Shipments Safer by Sub”, in www.bullatomsci.org, vol. 46, no: 10, December 1990. The authors of this article have gone to such an extent that they suggest the usage of submarines for the transport of plutonium. This was the solution taken by Germany in 1916 for the supply of nickel and rubber.

319 Hervé Lionel-Marie, expert at the Appellate Court in Versailles, however notes that the statistics of the year 2000 also includes the fifty American sailors, victims of the attack against the USS Cole. Interview with the author on 30th January 2002.

320 M. Hand, “Indonesian Waters Hotspot for Piracy Attacks”, The Shipping Times, 4th February 1999.

Table des illustrations

Titre Piracy: the hot spots
Légende Data from the IBM for 2001.
URL http://books.openedition.org/irasec/docannexe/image/479/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 176k
Titre Trade exchanges in 1994 (billions of dollars, estimations)
Légende * proportion of national trade transiting through the sea lanes of Southeast AsiaSources : WEEKS, S. SLOC Security and Access, IGCC Policy Paper 33, 1998
URL http://books.openedition.org/irasec/docannexe/image/479/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 157k

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