Banda Aceh. Police in Aceh announced that the arrest of four suspected pirates had uncovered a highly organized and extensive criminal organization operating across the Malacca Strait.
Insp. Gen. Iskandar Hasan, the Aceh Police chief, said on Monday that the pirate suspects, identified as Mawardi, Ismail, Hasbi and Munawir, hijacked the Singapore-flagged KM Galant in early September while it was in the strait delivering a crane to Weh Island in Aceh’s Sabang district.
After snatching Yayan Jauhari, the ship’s chief engineer, the pirates abandoned the ship and fled to their hideout in Bener Meriah district, where they made their Rp 700 million ($77,000) ransom demand.
Police managed to find the gang and their hostage, but they evaded capture and fled to neighboring Pidie Jaya district.
Police finally managed to arrest one of the suspects, Mawardi, on Sept. 18.
“We arrested him after convincing him that the ransom would be paid and that all he needed to do was come pick it up,” Iskandar said.
After questioning Mawardi, police were able to find and arrest Ismail a day later in North Aceh, and Hasbi and Munawir on Sept. 22, also in North Aceh.
Iskandar said the four, all from East Aceh, were believed to be part of a wider, highly organized pirate outfit operating extensively across the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
He said the gang operated under the command of a prisoner currently being held at Tanjung Gusta Penitentiary in North Sumatra. “They would frequently receive instructions from him and then share their spoils with him,” the police chief said.
Iskandar said police would question the prisoner soon, although he declined to identify the prisoner or say why he was in jail.
He added that the information and evidence collected from the men in custody led police to believe the well-oiled crime syndicate had something resembling a conscience.
From each attack on a ship or ransom paid, the leader at Tanjung Gusta would receive a 30 percent cut of the spoils. Those carrying out the attacks would share 60 percent, and the remaining 10 percent would be donated to orphanages.
Among the items seized from the four suspects were a speedboat, handguns and hand grenades. Documents from the KM Galant were also recovered.
Iskandar said police were searching for the rest of the gang.
Sea piracy and ship hijackings are common maritime crimes in the Aceh waters, and in the past they have been often linked to the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Indonesia has worked with neighboring states Singapore and Malaysia for years to try to safeguard the 900-kilometer Malacca Strait.
The strait, which links Asia with the Middle East and Europe, is a prime piracy target because more than 30 percent of global trade and half the world’s oil shipments pass through it.
On Sept. 15, Indonesia and Malaysia launched a joint patrol in the strait with each deploying two warships.
Together with Singapore and Thailand, the countries also carry out air patrols above the strait as part of their “Eye in the Sky” operation.