Saturday, March 7, 2009

Effective Coordinated Patrols of Malacca Strait To Broaden Membership by Fardah Assegaf

    Jakarta, March 7, 2009 (ANTARA) - Previously holder of a dubious title as the number one piracy hot spot, the Malacca Strait is currently being looked at as an example of a success story on how to protect security in the world's busiest sea lane.
     Late last year,  Efthimios Mitropoulos, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) expressed his optimism  that  his organization could take lessons from the reduced piracy and robbery in the Malacca Strait  to  the Gulf of Aden which lies between Somalia and Yemen and has witnessed increasing  number of piracies in the recent year.

       A group of officials from Yemen also reportedly visited  Singapore last year to learn from the countries' experiences in  combating piracy through regional cooperation.
     Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have established cooperation to maintain security in the Malacca Strait Since July 2004. The trilateral coordinated patrol scheme is codenamed MALSINDO Malacca Straits Coordinated Patrols.
     Since the joint patrols began to be carried out, the crime rate in the 500-mile long strait has decreased by about 70 percent,  Major General Supiadin, operations assistant to the TNI (Indonesian Defense Forces) Commander, said in Jakarta last March 5, 2009.
      "In 2008, only four  criminal cases happened  in the Malacca Strait. So the patrols  we have been conducting with Malaysia and Singapore were very effective," Supiadin.
     Because of the regular sea and air patrols by Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand,  the piracy problem in the Malacca Strait has dropped from 75 in 2000, 21 incidents in 2004 to six last year.
      Thailand will in mid 2009 formalize its involvement in the coordinated patrols in the Malacca Strait.
      In 2005, Indonesia raised an idea to involve Thailand in the Malacca Strait coordinated patrols. However, due to the political situation in Thailand, it was decided to give an observer status to Thailand.
      Thailand has unofficially participated in the Malacca Strait patrols since two months ago. 
      In a recent meeting with the TNI Chief, the commander of the Thai Military Defense Forces had expressed readiness to be involved in the Malacca Strait patrols officially.
       "The Thai involvement will be formalized in the middle of this year, after all matters concerning Thailand's participation in the Malacca Strait patrols are fully discussed internally and externally  together with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore," Major General Supiadin said.
     Matters which needed to be clarified included the number of fleets and the patrol areas of the Thai military for the coordinated patrols of Malacca Strait, he said.
     The Malacca Strait is bordered by Rondo Island and Pukhet in the north and Karimun island and Tanjung Piai in the south, with a total length of 500 miles or 926 kilometers.
     The control points of the coordinated patrols are at Belawan and Batam (Indonesia), Lumut (Malaysia), and Changi (Singapore). The control point will also include Pukhet (Thailand) when Thailand officially joins the coordinate patrols.
     Indonesian has also invited  India's military to participate in efforts to optimize security in the  Malacca Strait.
     "We are discussing various possibilities to optimize  security in the Malacca Strait, including  inviting several countries with an interest in shipping  in the strait or countries directly  bordering  the strait to take part in securing it,"  Supiadin said.
     The involvement of India in the Malacca Strait patrols would be very positive as then  all approaches  to the strait will be more secure for international shipping, he said.
     The Malacca Strait constitutes a shipping lane between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and links  three of the world's most populous countries, namely India, Indonesia and China.
      Over 50,000 vessels pass through the strait per year, carrying about one-quarter of the world's traded goods including oil, Chinese manufactures, and Indonesian coffee.
     Around 50% of global oil shipments, including 70% of Japan's oil imports and 80% of China's oil imports, pass through the Malacca Strait everyday.
      Because Japan's significant interest in the strait, the Japanese government gave 3 patrol boats to Indonesian police in 2007 and a total of about 120 Japanese maritime experts had come to Indonesia to give capacity building assistance since the 1970s.
    The Indonesian and Japanese governments in November last year  signed diplomatic notes on a 16.2 million USD grant in aid from the Japanese government for enhancement of vessel traffic systems (VTS) in the Malacca and Singapore straits.
     From March 5 to 6, 2009, member countries of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) held a meeting on maritime security especially in the Malacca Strait, in Surabaya.
     The meeting was attended by representatives of the United States, Australia, the European Union as well as other non-ASEAN countries, M.T. Hamzah Thayeb, the foreign ministry's director general of Asia, Pacific and African affairs, said in Surabaya recently.
     Maritime security has become crucial in trade routes and any maritime security problems could hamper trade, said Thayeb.
      The meeting's participants would exchange information and make coordination on maritime security, he said.
      He reported that the piracy rate  in the Malacca Strait had decreased thanks to the MALSINDO coordinated patrol in the strait.
     "In the past, the number of piracies in the Malacca Strait was three times higher than those in Somalian waters, and we often got complaints from other countries," he said.
      In August 2006, the Lloyd's Joint War Risk Committee decided to lift its classification of the Malacca Strait as a War Risk Zone.
     However, despite the Southeast Asia's victory over the battle against piracy in the Malacca Straits, a watchdog reminded that any reduction in vigilance could see a sudden return of high-seas banditry in the vital trade lane.
     Vice Admiral Ahmad Ramli Moh Nor, chairman fo the Maritime Institute of Malaysia, recently in Kuala Lumpur said that  the current economic slowdown raised fears of maritime safety in the Straits of Malacca as piracy and sea robbery might make a comeback.
     "I am not saying that there will be increase in the pricey and robbery due to the economic slowdown, but we need to take pro-active steps and be ready to face any possibility as we are faced with a similar situation," he said at a seminar on Tackling piracy at Sea" on March 4, 2009, in Kuala Lumpur.
         Meanwhile First Admiral (R) associate prof Dr Sutarji Kasmin of Malaysia said poverty and lack of education were key causes of piracy in the Straits of Malacca during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
        He said studies carried out in various hot spots, including Indonesia's Batam and Dumai islands in 1997 found that poor fishermen and laborers became pirates out of desperation.
      Paris Institute of Political Studies researcher Eric Frecon said a few years ago that in many poor and remote areas in a number of Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia unemployed fishermen or seamen were driven by poverty to commit piracy.
     "Piracy will exist as long as unemployment remains a major economic problem," Paris Institute of Political Studies researcher Eric Frecon said, he said.
      Therefore to strengthen the security power, members of the MALSINDO Malacca Straits Coordinated Patrols have invited India to join the patrols and will soon formalize Thailand's involvement in guarding the Malacca Strait.

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