Countering Piracy at the Regional Level


Governments in SEA have demonstrated their interest in eradicating piracy and have made vigorous and sometimes very effective efforts to do so. However, the leading regional powers are opposed to the internationalization of the fight against maritime piracy in SEA, as was the case, for example, in the Somali case. The leading archipelagic States, as well as Viet Nam, fear, in some cases rightly, that the presence of foreign naval forces could weaken their sovereignty over territorial waters and lead to a loss of control over the exclusive economic zone.

In addition, there are other challenges to maritime security in the region that some Governments consider to be of a higher priority than the problem of maritime piracy. First and foremost is the existence of a security gray zone in the South Sea. In addition, the maritime space of SEA has actually become the sphere of strategic rivalry between China, on the one hand, and Japan and the United States, on the other. The appearance of navies of other states in its waters to combat piracy may contribute to escalation. In addition to naval forces, the maritime states of SEA have coast guard and maritime police services focused on combating piracy. Malaysia has the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), which reports to the Prime Minister and carries out intelligence, operational and other functions. In 2015, the MMEA initiated the creation of the Special Task and Rescue Force (STAR – Special Task and Rescue) team. After receiving information about the hijacking of the Orkim Victory in June 2015, MMEA dispatched an impressive force to free the vessel: a helicopter, three ships and five boats. The Singapore Navy formed accompanying security teams to protect the vessels. The Indonesian government assigned naval command centers a number of functions to counter maritime piracy and deployed a Western Fleet Quick Response (WFQR) team in the Strait of Malacca. As early as the 1970s, a trilateral dialog involving Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore was initiated to discuss issues related to counter-piracy.

A system of joint patrols is now in place along the most important sea lanes in the region. Special attention is paid to the waters of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. In 2004, the MALSINDO program was launched, the key instrument of which is the “Malacca Patrol” with the participation of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. In 2008, Thailand joined the program. “The Malacca Patrol consists of three elements: “Malacca Strait Maritime Patrol, Eyes in the Sky (aerial surveillance) and Intelligence Sharing Group. In 2005, the MALSINDO program was amended to allow patrol vessels of the Malacca Strait coastal states to pursue pirate vessels in each other’s territorial waters up to a depth of 5 miles. At the same time, as mentioned above, pirates have shifted their activities to other areas of South-East Asian maritime space. At the same time, it is clear that regional States have insufficient forces of their own to counter maritime piracy throughout the entire length of the maritime space of South-East Asia. A comprehensive approach to countering maritime piracy includes not only a naval response, but also overcoming the political and economic conditions that make it possible to make significant profits from engaging in this type of criminal activity. Here, too, much depends on the contribution of supranational regulators. Measures taken by global bureaucracies are often palliative.

Various types of liquid fuels and palm oil have become very popular as prey for pirates. The shipbuilding industry has begun implementing the Automatic Identification System on virtually all vessels entering international waters. The system’s trackers allow shipowners and maritime police to track the course of ships. Attempts to disable the trackers are automatically considered a pirate attack. As an instrument of “soft” regional cooperation in anti-piracy activities, the international institutions of South-East Asia, primarily ASEAN structures – ARF, EAC, SMOA+ – act as an instrument of “soft” regional cooperation, within the framework of which piracy, maritime robbery and maritime terrorism are discussed as forms of non-traditional security threats. Currently, ASEAN is discussing the possibility of creating a unified navy to combat pirates. The interests of the SEA countries obviously coincide in the intention to eradicate piracy, but their approaches to the problem and the tools to address it differ.