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Piracy Is Still A Huge Problem In Indonesia

Almost all international monitoring organizations say Indonesia has some of the most dangerous waters in the world, but the government disagrees.

Hollywood looks to Somalia for pirate inspiration, but all signs point to Indonesia as the setting for the next pirate blockbuster. Reports from The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and International Maritime Bureau (IMB) indicate that Southeast Asia has become the world's sea piracy capital.

In 2015, ICC and IMB reported that the number of cases of sea piracy in ASEAN has accounts for over half of all piracies in the world. Worse yet, the rate of attacks in the region have been growing annually since 2006. Arie Soedewo, Chief of The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency, said that the worlds busiest commercial shipping lane, the Malacca Strait, has the highest piracy risks. "We're concerned that Malacca Strait is widely considered as 'The Most Dangerous Waters in the World'," he told VICE Indonesia. "Since 1998 the Indonesian marines have teamed up with other [ASEAN] countries [to battle piracy]. We also have the Malacca Strait Sea Patrol."


According to recent events, piracy does not just happen in the Malacca Strait. Last March, the Philippines based terrorist group Abu Sayyaf took ten Indonesian crew members hostage off the coast of Sulu island. The hostages were released three months later and returned to Indonesia.

"I was in touch with our ministry of transportation, and maritime affairs and fisheries ministry. Most piracy incidents didn't take place in Indonesian waters, but in Sulu [Philippines]. So it wasn't our jurisdiction," said Soedewo. "We care about piracy, we are ashamed that [the media] portray us as 'The Most Dangerous Waters in the World.'"

While the label of 'Most Dangerous Waters in The World' might seem unfair to Soedewo, the numbers don't paint a pretty picture. The waters around Southeast Asia are home to over half of the world's piracy attacks, 40 percent of those attacks happened in Indonesian waters.

Soedewo said the label was an exaggeration, he believed that the piracy rate was dropping. "I can ensure that there's no such thing [as piracy] in Indonesia. Piracy is when someone or a group of people takes over a ship by force, if someone loses their flip-flops or wristwatch, we can't call it piracy."

These days, armed robberies are being considered an accepted risk while sailing in the Southeast Asia waters, especially the busy shipping lanes of the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Every year there are at least 120,000 ships sailing across the route, one third of the world's commercial ships.

Maritime security expert Karsten von Hoesslin said that piracy in Southeast Asia has progressed from "pure robberies in transit and towards more elaborate hijackings for product theft targeting both product tankers and crude palm oil barges." Many piracy attacks go unreported, so the true number of attacks are thought to be much higher.

Piracy in the region has become so lucrative that it's lead to a mafia like system of pirate bosses who are immensely powerful according to Eric Frécon in Chez les Pirates d'IndonésieIn his book, Frécon conducted a interviews on Batam island, Indonesia, between 2009 and 2012 and learned that local pirate bosses have become extremely powerful. They can ensure their men can get better treatment in jail and even secure a release in a few months even though many of them were sentenced to years in jail.

Soedewo says that he has data, which he refused to provide, that disputes how dangerous Indonesian waters are. He claimed that the region is safe from piracy, flying in the face of what many piracy monitoring organizations are saying.

"If the incidents happened in Malacca Strait, that would be Indonesia's problem. But let me ask you, were there any piracy incidents in Indonesian waters that require international force to free the hostages?" ask Soedewo. "Since there were no such incidents, there's no need to say Indonesian waters is the most dangerous in the world. If one was to make such a claim, we should ask, where's the data?"