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Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Singapore warns Asian piracy could cripple world trade

REUTERS , SINGAPORE

Attacks on ships by sea pirates in Southeast Asia are resembling military operations -- growing bolder, more violent and fuelling fears of an attack that would cripple world trade, Singapore said yesterday.

As the US considers plans for a Regional Maritime Security Initiative to tighten surveillance of the busy Malacca Strait, through which one-third of world trade passes, Singapore said the risk of a devastating attack was growing.

"We have been alarmed not only by the increase in the number of pirate attacks in the sea lanes of communication in this part of the world, but also in the nature of the piracy attacks," said Singapore's coordinating minister for security, Tony Tan.

"In previous years when you had a piracy attack, what it meant is that you have a sampan or a boat coming up to a cargo ship, pirates throwing up some ropes, scrambling on board, ransacking the ship for valuables, stealing money and then running away," Tan told an Asian security forum.

"But the last piracy attack that took place in the Straits of Malacca showed a different pattern," he added.

The pirates were well-armed, operating sophisticated weapons and commanding high-speed boats.

"They conducted the operation almost with like military precision," Tan said.

The International Maritime Bureau says one-third of the 445 cases of recorded pirate attacks last year happened in Indonesian waters, including the Malacca Strait linking trading and oil centers in the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

"If terrorists were to seize a tanker, a large ship, and sink it into a narrow part of the Straits it will cripple world trade. It would have the iconic large impact which terorrists seek," Tan said.

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