South East Asian waters have become the most dangerous in the world, with 2015 set to become a record year for piracy incidents in the region, according to maritime security experts.
Some 194 incidents, including 14 hijackings, have been reported in the vast sea area running from India to Indonesia up to the end of September, a 38% increase on last year. UK maritime intelligence company Dryad Maritime forecast the number to reach 265 by the end of 2015, as autumn months are traditionally the most prolific for local criminal gangs.
If confirmed the figure would be the highest in the last five years. Most crimes are what the company describes as cases of "petty theft", but the number of serious incidents has also gone up.
There were 11 instances of fuel cargo theft this year, up from only one in 2011. The trafficked Singapore Strait has proven to be a particularly perilous area, with 90 instances of theft or attempted theft recorded.
"These incidents are carried out by criminal syndicates who target specific small regional product tankers, [with] inside knowledge of their movements either by personnel with the parent companies or by crewmembers," said Dryad's senior analyst, Stephen McKenzie.
In 2015, piracy incidents in South East Asia alone have been more than double the total for the rest of the world. With 'only' 39 crime cases, the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa is the second most dangerous spot, followed by the Indian Ocean (10), while another 35 incidents were recorded in the remaining seas across the globe, including the infamous Gulf of Aden.
"During the late 1990s and up to 2006 over 60% of the world's maritime crime took place in South East Asian waters, with the Malacca Strait being the primary area for such criminal activity," explained McKenzie. "With the increase in Somali piracy the focus moved away from the region, but since the decline in Somali piracy Southeast Asia has once again become the main area for such activity."
The deficit in security collaboration between countries, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, is partially to blame, according to McKenzie. "This lack of co-operation in dealing with maritime crime has led to a flourishing network of small gangs intent on stealing stores, spare parts and cash from vessels under way and at anchor," he said.
"This coupled with thousands of miles of coast, small inlets and islands where small fast craft can quickly escape to with little chance of being pursued provides an environment where small-scale crime has thrived".