Indonesia is regarded as the biggest problem area. Many attacks are in and around Indonesian waters and many attacks outside Indonesian waters are by Indonesian pirates. Economic problems and instability there are believed to be part of the problem. There is a lack of enforcement.

About a quarter of the worldwide piracy attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s occurred in Indonesian waters. Of the 445 piracy attacks worldwide in 2004, more than a quarter were in Indonesian waters. Of the 259 attacks in the first nine months of 2005 sixty-one were in Indonesian waters. Of the 285 reported incidents of piracy in 1999, 113 took place in Indonesian waters. An addition 31 took place in waters between Malaysia and Singapore and Indonesia. Pirates hangout near Singapore on the Indonesian Riau Islands and in the waters between Sulawesi, Borneo and the Philippines.

Ikaika Ramones of Forbes wrote: “Indonesia is no stranger to piracy. Throughout the archipelago’s history raiders on the sea have been a recurrent problem. Modern-day piracy comes in three forms: boarding parties that rob vessels, syndicates that steal entire ships and raiders who kidnap crew members for ransom. Sea raiders have provided intelligence and tax tributes to sultans and have been conducting simple robberies of vessels in the Malacca Strait and other areas for centuries. However, when European colonizers arrived to exploit these littoral sultanates, traditional economic systems broke down, culminating in a spike in piracy that intensified in the 19th century. The Dutch and British also attempted to provide coastal communities with economic alternatives. [Source: Ikaika Ramones, Forbes, August 12, 2013]

Pirates like Indonesia because many ships pass through its water, the ships often travel slowly because the straits are narrow and potentially danger, and there are lots of islands for them to escape to. Indonesia is the perfect hideout for pirates. It has a long tradition of piracy, thousands of islands to hideout and a week political leadership and local authorities that can be easily be bribed.

Some pirates work for organized syndicates. Many are simple fishermen who turn to piracy to makes ends meet. The rate of piracy increased dramatically after the Asian economic crisis. Some pirates are from Aceh. The Free Aceh Movement is believed to have turned to piracy to make money. . Others offer some f the loot to villagers in return for protection.

See Separate Article on PIRATES AND PIRACY IN ASIA factsanddetails.com

History of Piracy in Indonesia

Sulawesi has a long tradition of piracy. There are entire villages devoted to the trade. In the old days the attacked British warships and trading vessels on their way back from the Spice Islands. In the late 1990s the waters east of Sulawesi became so ridden with pirates a yacht race between Australia and the Spice Islands was canceled.

Ikaika Ramones of Forbes wrote: “These colonial invaders encountered raiding parties across what is now modern-day Indonesia. The Bugis people of South Sulawesi were mentioned in European sailors’ accounts of pirates in Indonesian seas. Many speculate these attacks gave rise to the English word “bogeyman,” a nightmarish figure in Western culture. Even the traditional ships they used, phinisi, and their signature black sails became symbols of piracy in the Western world.” [Source: Ikaika Ramones, Forbes, August 12, 2013 +]

In the 1820s, the Dutch and British empires drew a line in the sea and agreed to hunt down pirates on their respective sides; that line went on to become the modern-day border between Malaysia and Indonesia. [Source: Patrick Winn, GlobalPost, March 27, 2014]

Bugis and Piracy

The Bugis also have a reputation for being pirates. The expression "the bogey man is going to get you" can be traced back to the first Europeans that came to this part of the world who like every one else in the region feared the Bugis. The Bugis still have this reputation today, as well as one of the last great sailing fleets.

European mariners greatly feared Bugi pirates. Both Conrad and Melville mentioned the Bugis Today, Bugis are associated with the rise of piracy in the waters around Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Newspapers have reported Bugis who invaded atolls, burning the villages an make off with an entire year's worth of their cash crop, copa (oil-bearing coconut husks).

The Bugis are the predominate ethnic group in southern the southern peninsula of Sulawesi. Also known as the Boegineezen, Buginese, To Bugi, To Ugi’, To Wugi, they are one of the most well known sea-faring peoples in Southeast Asia. They have traveled widely and colonized numerous coastal areas and have a long association with piracy.

The Bugis are famous for their Pinisi schooners which they have used for centuries to travel as far south as the Australian coast where they left behind drawings of ships and words that have been integrated in the Aboriginal language of North Australia. Bugis have traditionally lived on coast and the plains are culturally similar to the Makassarese, who dominate the southern tip of peninsula where the Bugis live. The Bugis have their own language. Their name is derived from a village. “To Ugi’ formally on the Cenrana Rover. Bugis are believed to number around 4 million, with maybe three fourths of them living in Sulawesi.

The Bugis were notorious mercenaries in the colonial period and their presence often turned the tide in the favor of the Dutch in places like the Riau Archipelago and East Kalimantan. Bugis were also involved in the Indonesia independence movement and thus still remain influential today. The Indonesia government has traditionally kept up a string military presence in Bugi areas to keep from rebelling and fighting one another. Before the arrival of the Dutch in Indonesia Bugi mercenaries attained high positions in Aceh, Malaysia , the Riau Archipelago and Thailand and established large settlements in eastern Sumatra. Bugi merchants established strategic trading pots on Kuta in Kalimantan, Johor, north of Singapore, and Selangor, near Kuala Lumpur.

Indonesia Reclaims the No. 1 Piracy Position from Somalia

Ikaika Ramones of Forbes wrote: ““The World’s Most Dangerous Waters ” was one headline used to describe Indonesia’s seas, which last year had the dubious distinction of overtaking Somalia and the Gulf of Aden as home to the most pirate attacks in the world. In 2012 there were a total of 297 pirate attacks worldwide, 81 of which occurred in Indonesia’s waters, against only 75 in Somalia and the Gulf (altogether they accounted for 53 percent of the world total), according to the Piracy Reporting Centre of the global monitoring body International Maritime Bureau. [Source: Ikaika Ramones, Forbes, August 12, 2013 +]

“These figures are made worse when put into context: Global piracy overall has actually been on the decline, down from 439 incidents in 2011, while Indonesia’s numbers have been rising since 2009, with the trend continuing into this year. Indonesia was the global leader in piracy with 25 incidents out of 66 worldwide in the first quarter of 2013, according to the Piracy Reporting Centre. Somalia and the Gulf? Only 6 cases. What’s behind the upsurge? The issues are complicated, says Eric Frécon, author of Chez les pirates d’Indonésie, a book on Indonesian piracy, and an assistant professor at the French Naval Academy. For one, he says, the pirates have shifted away from their traditional bases in the Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia. “Generally, pirates are either migrating to the south, toward more secretive places in the vicinity of Jambi province, or moving farther to the east, in the open seas and far from the coasts and patrols,” he says.

Andreas Ismar wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The sprawling archipelago has become the world’s top spot for pirate attacks, according to “Safety and Shipping Review 2014,” a report by a unit of global insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty that looked at key developments in maritime safety. The number of attempted and actual acts of piracy in Indonesia has jumped seven-fold between 2008 and 2013, years, bucking a global downward trend in the number of sea piracy attacks. In 2013 the number of recorded attacks reached 264, a 40 percent drop from the time Somali piracy peaked in 2011, the AGCS report said, citing data from the International Maritime Bureau. The picture is altogether different, however, in Indonesia, which accounted for 106 of those 264 attacks, a significant increase from the 15 incidents reported there in 2009. [Source: Andreas Ismar, Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2014]

In the early 2010s, the number of pirate attacks in Somali waters plummeted 95 percent to a meager seven incidents in 2013; none were successful. Patrick Winn wrote in Global Post, “Piracy in Southeast Asia, meanwhile, is accelerating. Attacks and attempted attacks in the waters of Indonesia — which controls much of the Malacca Strait and its environs — totaled 107 in 2013. The German insurance firm Allianz is now sounding a warning: Southeast Asian piracy must be reined in before it’s too late. The attacks mostly amount to “opportunistic thefts carried out by small bands,” according to Allianz, but these syndicates could potentially “escalate into a more organized piracy model.” Somalia’s turnaround is owed to several factors: NATO- and EU-backed naval patrols, ships hiring on-board riflemen and, perhaps most importantly, a new Somali government working to stabilize its lawless coast. [Source: Patrick Winn, GlobalPost, March 27, 2014]

Modern Indonesian Piracy

Ikaika Ramones of Forbes wrote: “Instead of the Malacca Strait, the pirates have increasingly moved to isolated island groups close to international shipping lanes, such as the Anambas islands and Natuna islands, situated in the middle of the South China Sea. Another base is emerging around the island of Batam and its nearby neighbor Belakang Island, which is close to Singapore and has become a center for low-cost manufacturing for exports via Singapore. [Source: Ikaika Ramones, Forbes, August 12, 2013 +]

“Piracy is also changing as it moves from spontaneous attacks toward a more insidious and organized nature. Frécon comments on the existence of the “Godfathers” who manage the piracy. Some of these crime bosses are former pirates or have decided to add piracy to their other illegal activities, such as gambling, drugs and prostitution. “Recent hijackings would confirm that they … organize sea crimes, maybe in partnership with bigger syndicates,” says Frécon. +

“What has also happened, says Frécon, is that poor Indonesians are drawn to Batam in search of jobs . This trend has created a pool of disenfranchised who are choice targets for recruitment into piracy. Even local fishermen have become potential recruits. “The local fishing community suffered from overfishing and pollution along the coasts,” notes Frécon. The root of the problem is not social but economic, he notes, as more coherent and sustainable development in areas that are prone to pirate recruitment might go a long way toward alleviating the piracy problem. +

Patrick Winn wrote in Global Post, “Indonesian pirates typically have different tactics from their Somali counterparts, who’ve made headlines by invading vessels and demanding multimillion-dollar ransoms. In the Malacca Strait, pirates like to get in and get out. Their “modus operandi isn’t to kidnap,” according to Tim Donney, an Allianz marine risk consultant. “These pirates just want the cash aboard the vessel or to rob the crew of any valuables.” [Source: Patrick Winn, GlobalPost, March 27, 2014]

“Piracy has long transfixed locals “born to the hard and dreary life of the fisherman,” writes historian Donald B. Freeman in the 2003 book “Straits of Malacca: Gateway or Gauntlet?” A pirate’s life, Freeman wrote, was traditionally viewed in the region as a “passport to adventure, riches and prestige rather than a criminal occupation.” This tradition, paired with the pirate-friendly terrain, “helped give the region a reputation that made merchants and legitimate seafarers tremble at the very thought of traversing the strait.”

Pirates Attacks in Indonesian Waters and the Malacca Straits

Ay 2:50am local time on October 15, 2010, approximately 26 nautical miles south of Pulau Karimata, Indonesia, the Singapore-registered crude oil tanker 'Eagle Corona' was attacked by six robbers armed with long knives. The attackers tied up the crew and the captain. Cash and personal effects were robbed; all the crew were not harmed except one crew sustained a minor cut on his neck. [Source: ReCAAP ISC October 19, 2010]

In June 2014, a Thai oil tanker was hijacked in the waters between Singapore and Indonesia. It was the third such attack in period of several weeks, according to Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Celine Fernandez wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The MT Orapin 4, a Thai flagged vessel with 14 crew, was reported missing by its Thai owners after it left Singapore for Indonesian Borneo on May 27. The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center sent an alert on May 30 to all vessels in the waters near Indonesia’s Bintan Island, the Singapore Straits and the South China Sea to keep a lookout for the tanker. On June 2 the center reported that the MT Oraphin 4 had arrived safely at Sri Racha Port in Thailand. “Pirates hijacked and stole the tanker’s oil cargo and destroyed the communication equipment. The crew and vessel are safe,” the center said. “Mr. Choong said the location where the hijacking took place was still unknown. “We only know it happened when it was en route from Singapore to Pontianak,” a port in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, he said. [Source: Celine Fernandez, Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2014 ^|^]

In May 2014, “at least eight armed pirates boarded an oil tanker bound for Myanmar from Singapore through the Strait of Malacca and stole three million liters of diesel fuel. The captain and two senior crew were taken away from the ship, but no further details have emerged about the perpetrators or their reason for the attack. “Investigations are still going on,” said Capt. Alias Hamdan, the Port Klang enforcement chief of the Malaysian maritime enforcement agency. “We have not heard from the company. Neither have we heard from the families of the three men who were taken away,” he said. ^|^

In April 2014, “pirates hijacked another Thai-owned oil tanker off Aur Island, about 65km east of Johor, Malaysia. In that incident 16 armed pirates board the vessel, damaged the communications equipment and transferred part of the fuel into another tanker, according to local media reports at the time. The tanker was heading to Cambodia from Singapore with its cargo and 14 crew.” ^|^

On the attack above, Associated Press reported: “A marine police officer said the tanker was sailing from Singapore to Myanmar when it was boarded by pirates armed with pistols and machetes early Tuesday. He said most of the crew members were tied up and locked in a room. The officer said another tanker appeared and an estimated 3 million liters, of the 5 million liters of diesel on board the ship, were transferred over a span of several hours. He said three Indonesian crew members were missing along with their passports and belongings. The Star newspaper quoted senior marine police commander Norzaid Muhammad Said as saying the ship was intercepted off Klang port, outside Kuala Lumpur. Norzaid told the newspaper the three Indonesians were believed to have been kidnapped. [Source: Associated Press, April 23, 2014]

Efforts to Crackdown on Indonesian Piracy

Patrick Winn wrote in Global Post, “Regional militaries of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia responded by upping warship patrols in the strait. But pirates have simply shifted into distant island chains beyond the strait’s exit along the route to China. Indonesia isn’t nearly as lawless as Somalia. But both are coastal nations where poverty is rife and police are ill-equipped. Both also happen to be situated on routes trafficked by wealthy nations’ trade vessels. [Source: Patrick Winn, GlobalPost, March 27, 2014]

Ikaika Ramones of Forbes wrote: “As opposed to Somalia’s clear-cut coastline with its high visibility, Indonesia’s thousands of islands, coastal mangrove forests and shallow estuaries are perfect hideaways. Military authorities that are supposed to root out the pirates have not kept up with the changes. “The [Indonesian] Navy focuses too much on the Malacca Strait and forgets the surrounding zones. The Malacca Strait is increasingly safe for international shipping,” he says. A few years ago the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore launched a well-publicized campaign pledging to cooperate on the piracy issue, including dramatic photos of large warships patrolling the Malacca Strait. Frécon points out that real cooperation between navies has so far been problematic, thus impeding a “united front” against the pirates. [Source: Ikaika Ramones, Forbes, August 12, 2013 +]

“In addition, he notes that the warships in the publicity photos are too big to track the pirates back to their bases, usually hidden in mangroves. Those who could track at a local level, he notes, are generally ill-equipped to take on the pirates. Many local authorities in these coastal areas might not have much more than a few wooden boats with small outboard motors. Fréc +

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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