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Malacca Strait piracy heading for 10-year high - Indonesia unrest fallout

The Straits Times, 10 October 2000

KUALA LUMPUR -- The number of attacks on shipping lines in the Straits of Malacca may hit a 10-year high owing to political instability in Indonesia, an anti-piracy body said yesterday.

Shipowners are worried. Japan is very concerned. At this moment it may hit a 10-year high. Attack reports are still coming in, said Mr Noel Choong, regional manager of the Piracy Reporting Centre, whose operations in the Malaysian capital are anchored by the International Maritime Bureau.

He said 30 attacks had been reported as of end-September, in the straits between Malaysia and Indonesia's Sumatra island. This compares with 32 in the straits for the whole of 1991.

In 1998, there was just one attack and last year, there were two.

There is an urgent need to clamp down on the piracy syndicates. If both Malaysia and Indonesia step up patrols, we can drastically reduce the piracy attacks, Mr Choong said.

He said attacks had increased following political instability in Indonesia.

According to the Malaysian security authorities, he said, most attacks occurred in Indonesian waters. If that is the case, the Indonesian authorities must act, said one shipping source, adding that the pirates seem to have some military background.

Mr Choong said his centre was opposed to crew carrying firearms or hiring mercenaries since this would only encourage pirates to attack in bigger and better-armed groups.

Meanwhile in Selangor, a Customs boat with four officers from the Malacca Smuggling Preventive branch, was surrounded by 15 enemy boats which tried to obstruct them from discharging their duties at Sabak Bernam, Selangor.

Malacca Customs Preventive Branch director Makhtar Abdullah said at that time the Customs boat had detained three boats with a cargo of keretek and liquor.

Some 40 people using fishing boats and sampans surrounded the Customs boat, he said. The blockade lasted an hour from 4.30 am.

Mr Makhtar said 38,000 cartons of keretek cigarettes, valued at RM625,800 (S$275,352), and 100 cartons of brandy and whisky were seized from the three boats. Unpaid import duty on the cigarettes and liquor was estimated at RM1.61 million. --AFP, Bernama