Thursday, January 20

Abduction in Sabah waters still a concerning issue


KOTA KINABALU: The abduction of crew members from ships in the Sulu-Celebes Sea and waters off eastern Sabah is still a concerning issue in the state, despite a decrease in the number of reported cases.

A total of seven incidents (comprising of three actual abductions and four attempts) were reported from January to April 2017.

Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Deputy Director Nicholas Teo G B said that most of the cases in Sabah involved tugboats, something that is uncommon in other areas.

“The nature of crime in Sabah would usually involve tugboats because it is the main type of vessel here, which is a bit unique, because in the other areas, they usually use oil tankers and so on.

“In the past, there were numerous cases of tugboats being hijacked and taken. Thus, we have been working with the Sabah Shipowners Association (SSSA) to address this issue,” Nicholas said when met at the Anti-Piracy and Sea Robbery Forum 2017 here at Hotel N5, Penampang yesterday.

He reiterated that, since March 2016 (when the first case was reported by ReCAAP in the Sulu Sea), the number of abductions has decreased.

“Up to this date, with enforcement from the territorial state and the land operation that is happening in the Philippines, we actually did not see any of these cases reoccurring since April.

“While the crime rate has dropped, there must be no room for complacency as we do not know how this crime is going to evolve until it has been completely eradicated.

“In the meantime, we have put in place the enforcement parts with the law enforcement as well as the precautionary parts in looking at vulnerable areas,” Nicholas added.

As of June 30, 2017, 18 crew are still being held in captivity out of the 59 crew abducted since March 2016.

The ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre reiterates its advice that all ships are to re-route from the area, whenever possible. Otherwise, ship masters and crew are strongly urged to exercise enhanced vigilance while transiting the area and to report immediately to the relevant centers.

He asserted that everyone can play a part in countering this issue. He said that civilians can help simply by notifying the relevant authorities in the event they witness the commencement of suspicious activity.

In Asia as a whole, a total of 36 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships (comprising of 30 actual incidents and six attempts) were reported during the first half of 2017.

The figure showed a decrease by 22% compared to the same period in 2016, whereby a total of 46 incidents were reported.

“Every year, aside from our normal engagements, we try to organize this event with Sarawak and the SSSA to further our collaboration with them.

“As I have also mentioned earlier, maritime-related crime always evolves. Through this collaboration, we will be able to understand the evolvement better. We will work with other inter-ministry agencies to establish a suppression for this crime,” Nicholas said when asked about the purpose of the forum.

ReCAAP is a body that aims to enhance regional co-operation through information sharing, capacity building and co-operative arrangements in combating piracy and armed robbery against ships.

Nicholas coined ReCAAP as a group of neighbours, comprising of 20 countries, that are looking out for each other and are in constant contact with each other.

He stressed that ReCAAP does not have the power to orchestrate a response action. All that it does, upon receiving a report is to contact its contracting parties.

It works closely with other international bodies as well, such as International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Interpol, among others.

The forum yesterday also featured presentations from representatives of maritime-related agencies.