Mon, Dec 22, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Rampant pirates must be treated like terrorists, Singapore minister says

AFP , SINGAPORE

A boat rides past anchored vessels off Singapore on Saturday. Pirates roaming the waters of Southeast Asia should be regarded as terrorists, Singapore's Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said amid a rising number of attacks on ships and tankers.

PHOTO: AFP

Pirates roaming the waters of Southeast Asia should be regarded as terrorists, Singapore's Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said amid a rising number of attacks on ships and tankers.

Wong said last week there should be no distinction between pirates operating for personal gain and terrorists, with the motives of anonymous attackers impossible to judge until they are caught.

"Although we talk about piracy or anti-piracy, if there's a crime conducted at sea sometimes we do not know whether it's pirates or terrorists who occupy the ship so we have to treat them all alike," he said.

"So in other words if it's piracy we treat it just like terrorism because it is difficult to identify the culprits concerned unless you board the ship."

Wong was speaking in the context of the growing piracy menace in Southeast Asia, with the threat particularly high in the waters between Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The region is also home to a range of Islamic terrorist and militant organizations, including the Jemaah Islamiyah group behind last year's Bali bombings and the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnapping gang of the Philippines.

The London-based International Maritime Bureau, an industry watchdog, recently warned Indonesia's waters were the most piracy-prone in the world, with 87 incidents in the first nine months of this year resulting in 85 people being kidnapped and two killed.

It last month detailed a range of piracy attacks in the region, including the hijacking of an Indian-registered tanker off Indonesia's Bintan island, which is about an hour's sailing time from Singapore.

And a Singapore-owned tugboat, hijacked on Sept. 19 while sailing between from the city-state to Indonesia, was found more than a month later off Malaysia's northern Penang state.

Wong warned of the danger of an incident that initially looked like a piracy incident escalating into a terrorist attack.

"Terrorism camouflaged as piracy. That's a bigger concern for us than just simple piracy," he said, giving an example of assailants boarding a ship laden with liquid gas and sailing it into their target.

The International Maritime Board also reported last year an unusually high number of tugboats being hijacked and analysts have warned terrorists could load them with explosives to ram into ships or ports.

The Straits of Malacca, which form the busiest shipping line in the world, rank number one on the regional authorities' lists of immediate maritime piracy and terrorism concerns.

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