Step aside, Somalia: South-East Asia is the new piracy capital of the world
EIGHT men armed with pistols and machetes boarded the Orkim Harmony, a tanker, in the early evening of June 11th. Carrying 6,000 tonnes of petrol—worth more than $5m at market prices—the ship was nearing the end of a voyage around the southern tip of Malaysia, from Malacca on the country’s west coast to Kuantan Port on its eastern one. The pirates restrained the crew and scrubbed three letters from the hull, crudely disguising the vessel with a new name, Kim Harmon. Then they headed north towards Cambodia, in search of a friendly port in which to siphon off her liquid cargo. When the ship was finally spotted seven days later, the hijackers warned away security forces by threatening to harm the hostages, then slipped away in a life boat with whatever loot they could grab. The crew escaped injury except for the cook, who was airlifted to hospital after being shot in the thigh.
The attack on the Orkim Harmony was the latest in a spate of hijackings in South-East Asian seas, where the narrow straits separating Singapore and Malaysia from Indonesia provide passage for about one-third of the world’s shipping. Fifteen hijackings took place in 2014, up from only a handful the year before, according to the International Maritime Bureau; there have been nine in the past six months alone. These incidents are the most alarming symptom of a regional uptick in piracy, ranging from petty thefts in ports to more daring heists at sea. With the once-perilous waters around Somalia now calmed by an international effort, South-East Asia has regained an old reputation as the region worst-afflicted by piracy in the world.