The Piracy Challenge


We must first congratulate the multinational efforts and partnerships which have worked to combat piracy on the Indian Ocean. The presence of naval forces and those force protection measures which work to harden maritime targets have greatly reduced the incidence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. But we must also remember that if these measures  weaken, the attacks will certainly renew.

Meanwhile, piracy is abounding in Indonesian waters. The incidence of suspicious approach and attack are on the rise. The lessons learned from Aden mean that we may approach the Indonesian problem with current best practices devised from the Horn of Africa experience as well as the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). 


The opportunity structure for piracy in Southeast Asian waters is fueled by  abundant safe haven for Indonesian pirates, inadequate coast guard, and significant gaps in Southeast Asian port security. The disciplined and trained members of the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyyah have been quick to take up the challenge. Violent extremist organizations require financing and piracy remains profitable. There are many specific threats posed by pirate organizations in Southeast Asian waters.


They commit robbery in violent actions to take ship stores, equipment, and crew property. On 25 July, Indonesian pirates attacked the tanker MT Ji Xiang near Johor-Malaysia, shot a sailor when aboard and robbed the crew of their belongings.


Kidnap and ransom is common. Hostages are taken ashore and pirates negotiate for ransom. Indonesian, Malaysian, and Singaporean authorities are now partnering to combat the uptick in piracy. The pirates are known to seize hostages, steal property, and damage shipboard communications and engines before fleeing with gains. Many piracy related hostages have remained in captivity for years waiting for compliance with terms or rescue.


However, the engine of piracy in this region may be oil theft: It is taken, offloaded, bought and laundered through gray and black markets, and ‘clean’ oil is finally sold to legitimate buyers. Oil pirates are especially active in Southeast Asian waters. On July 9th this year, a fuel tanker was taken in Indonesian water at night while traversing a choke point on the waterway . Within 10 hours, Indonesian pirates siphoned four million liters of diesel to a waiting pirate tanker (Reuters). The illegal fuel trade is a multi-billion dollar industry. Chemical marker systems and fuel  inspections  have not worked to reduce the appetite for gray and black market oil.


The criminal network of diversion buyers,  resellers, and shippers of stolen oil must be targeted for prosecution. This is difficult work as many black and gray marketers will not take oil inventory until they are sure of how and to whom they will be selling it. Yet the investigative effort is well worth the trouble given the current energy dependency.

Low-level source operations by regional LE agencies and international task forces should exploit the local knowledge and expertise of indigenous law enforcement. Their close access and cultural proximity to coastal communities, fishing villages, and local criminals is of utmost importance to the effective investigation and identification of piracy networks.

Follow-on source operations can then identify partners, insider threat to the shipping industry, and upper echelon members of a given piracy conspiracy. It will reveal their  pattern-of-life, tactics and techniques, methods and key cultural factors. Developing local forces to implement these tasks is a necessity as they will be inherently more successful than their international partners. Know thy enemy.

For the security of maritime personnel, antipiracy measures and training, best security practices, and ship hardening are the main thrusts to reducing the threat and saving the lives of seamen. Plan, raise situational awareness, train and rehearse all security plans and measures.


Detecting hostile surveillance by pirates is the primary matter of security given the role of surveillance in the attack cycle. All acts of piracy are preceded by a period of information collection and surveillance. Disrupting the activity is this phase is the safest course of action. Detecting hostile surveillance purchases both time and space for response and increases your chance of  survival. Using speed to ‘move off the X’ is used with success in the maritime environment.


The use of technical surveillance options and sensors, unmanned aerial platforms, and exploitation of pirate command & control communications and chatter will provide advance warning and indication of attack. Pirates communicate by tactical radio, cell and satellite phone, and ship-shore radios. Interception of these communications is a matter of survival.

Laser optics detection is another reliable tool for spotting surveillance early, night or day. The commitment to detecting surveillance in high risk sea passages is a 24 hour a day process. Vigilance here enables crews to avoid and deter suspicious approaches which function as both penetration tests and dry-runs for actual attack  by pirates.


Defense and repelling pirate attacks with privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP), K9 assets, and ship hardening is the final pillar in the security equation.  Ship hardening is accomplished with razor wire, electric barriers, acoustic measures (LRAD), water cannons, polymer anti-ladder and grapple systems, warning signs and flags. These measures need to withstand the efforts of multiple armed attackers using small arms, rocket propelled grenades, and explosives.

The value of K9 in defeating attacks cannot be underscored. The size and composition of your security element is equally important; on this point the International Maritime Council (BIMCO) continues to advocate for a minimum of four man PCASP teams. International law and regulations have grown in accordance with the responsibility here: The BIMCO GUARDCON contract, the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers (ICoCA)140, the 100 Series Rules for the use of Force initiatives 141 (ICoC:2013).


Piracy is costly: It requires added port security measures, coast guarding, the deployment of naval forces, dedication of C4ISR assets, the toll of private security forces and equipments, kidnap ransom and recovery, insurance, fuel waste due to re-routing and use of speed in avoidance, and the cost of piracy investigation and prosecution. It is a persistent threat with no end in sight given failures in governance, poverty, and growth of international terrorism.

About the Author: Aaron Cunningham is the acting President of the International Tactical Training Association (ITTA).

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather