The MP Panamax 5 — a hulking red and black 226 meter-long bulk cargo ship — was anchored at East Kalimantan’s Adang Bay when a crew of four armed robbers slipped on board.
The robbers, armed with knives and a single gun, successfully snuck past the Singaporean vessel’s crew as they off-loaded cargo during the early morning hours of January 28, 2012. They made their way to the ship’s storeroom and were attempting to escape with a clutch of goods when they were spotted by one of the ship’s “able seaman” — an unlicensed watchmen working the vessel’s deck.
The robbers tried to attack the crewman, but he was able to sound the alarm. The robbers then squeezed off four shots and disappeared with a portion of the ship’s haul.
Incidents like this occur with an alarming frequency at Indonesia’s ports, according to figures released by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) on Monday. Armed robberies — which are different from piracy because they occur while a ship is in territorial waters — aboard ships docked in Indonesia reached a six-year high this year with 32 incidents, according to the report. Last year, 21 incidents were reported between the months of January and June.
“Nearly 90 percent of the incidents have occurred on vessels while they were anchored or berthed,” IMB spokesman Cyrus Mody said. “It is mainly robbery, [not] piracy that is occurring in Indonesian waters. It is opportunistic.”
The nation bucked global trends, where acts of armed robbery and piracy dropped during the first six months of 2012 to 177 incidents worldwide, according to IMB figures.
A reduction in the number of attacks by Somali pirates — down to 69 from 163 in 2011 — played a significant role in the overall drop.
The report cited an increase in “pre-emptive and disruptive counter-piracy tactics by the international navies” against Somali pirates as the reason behind the reduction.
“Naval actions play an essential role in frustrating the pirates. There is no alternative to their continued presence,” bureau director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement.
But in Southeast Asia, a dangerous mix of under-reporting and lax security have continued to provide ample opportunities for nautically minded criminals.
“The true level of crime in those waters is not being assessed and other vessels coming in to the region are not aware of what is going on,” Mody said.
Indonesia alone accounted for 20 percent of incidents reported worldwide during the first six months of 2012. The robbers boarded 32 ships, at times taking hostages and threatening the crew before escaping with engine parts, goods and shipping equipment.
They utilized a number of makeshift weapons during the heists, including crowbars, grappling hooks and knives. In one instance, the robbers boarded a boat docked near Batam Island from a wooden tug and rifled through the contents of 13 containers.
In another they climbed aboard a Singaporean vessel docked at Dumai, Riau, and stole a man’s handheld radio at knifepoint.
Increased security measures could lead to a drop in armed robberies, Mody said.
“A proper look out is the absolute, absolute priority because that gives an early warning to the crew of an approaching vessel,” Mody said.
Region-wide, piracy has been on the decline since the early 2000s after naval forces increased patrols in Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean waters.
“The reduction of the incidents is quite proportional to the physical presences of the navy or coast guards in the water,” Mody said.
The monitoring organization has issued a warning telling sailors to take care when entering waters near Anambas, Natuna, Mangkai, Subi, the Merundung islands and at Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port.