The Indian Coast Guard and Marine Police have earned plaudits for their efforts to check the buying of illegal goods stolen from ships by onshore vendors, which has led to a drastic drop in high seas robberies against vessels in Indian waters, a top official of a regional maritime agency said today.
Only two offshore ship incidents were reported in Indian waters during the first half of this year (January-June 2023), compared to three a year ago and a dramatic drop from 10-12 at its peak, Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre said in its half-yearly report.
The two incidents that took place in the first half of this year were on ships anchored or berthed, the report said.
"These efforts have restricted ship robberies in the Indian waters, and I appreciate that," said Krishnaswamy Natarajan, Executive Director of the Singapore-based ReCAAP.
In 2019, Natarajan, the former director-general of the Indian Coast Guard (ICG), worked with the local authorities and marine police to build the capability of monitoring where the items stolen from ships were sold to onshore vendors.
The vendors were warned that they, along with their businesses, would face the law if caught buying stolen items, including brass products, wires, and engine parts, among other unsecured ship properties, he elaborated.
Natarajan now leads ReCAAP in working with relevant authorities in Southeast Asia to stop the sale of items stolen from the ships.
"It is a work in progress," he told PTI.
If there is no buyer onshore, the robbers will not get money by selling stolen items from ships, Natarajan pointed out.
Overall, the ReCAAP reported 59 armed robberies against ships in Asia during the January-June 2023 period, an increase from 42 in the first half of last year.
There have been no incidents of piracy in Asia for the third consecutive year since 2000, according to the report by ReCAAP, which describes robbery as an incident happening in the territorial waters of a state while piracy is classified as an incident happening on high seas.
The agency expressed concern about the rise in incidents in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS). It reported 41 incidents during January-June 2023 compared to 27 in the first half of last year.
"The increase in the incidents in SOMS is likely due to the socio-economic situation worsened by the pandemic, lower fish catch due to climate change, and also the prevailing Southwest monsoon," Natarajan said.
"These factors may have led the locals of the Strait to turn to sea robbery and petty crimes to make ends meet," he said, urging the law enforcement agencies of coastal states to enhance surveillance, increase patrols and respond promptly to reports of incidents.