Commercial ships passing through the Malacca and Singapore straits have been warned to be alert for possible theft by local people and pirates while traversing Asia's busiest straits.
The Indonesian Navy's Western Armada Sea Security Group (Guskamla Armabar) commander, Cmdr. Abdul Rasyid Kacong, said that based on information from seafarers, the straits were vulnerable to theft by locals using pancung (small wooden boats).
"According to intelligence data, from January to February there were 17 reports of theft using pancung filed by commercial ships moored or sailing in the area," Abdul Rasyid told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
The high rate, according to Rasyid, was of concern of the Navy leader who had ordered Guskamla Armabar to act quickly and to strengthen patrols on the Malacca Strait and its surroundings.
"Today we foiled a theft, or piracy, attempt conducted by six people, four of whom are notorious pirates," said Rasyid, adding that the arrest was made by a Western Fleet Quick Response (WFQR) team.
He said the WFQR team apprehended the six perpetrators while in the act of committing the crime on board a ship moored in Batam waters, which border the Malacca and Singapore straits.
Rasyid said it was difficult to apprehend perpetrators because after committing the crime they would flee and hide on islands in the area where the water was too shallow for naval ships to enter.
"They usually take away all valuables on board a ship. But I am sure their numbers will lessen this year as we have established a team that will work around the clock. The team is equipped with a boat capable of chasing perpetrators as far as their hideouts on the islands," Rasyid said.
He added that most of the perpetrators were Indonesians who lived on small islands near the Malacca Strait in either Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean or Thai territory.
Earlier, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu emphasised the importance of securing the Malacca Strait not only from illegal fishing but also from crime and environmental damage.
The Malacca Strait borders four states: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The strait connects three major oceans: the South China Sea in the north, the Indian Ocean in the south and the Pacific Ocean to the east.
A centre focusing on piracy and armed robbery reported there were 129 attacks on vessels from January to September 2014, predominantly in Indonesian waters, the South China Sea and the Malacca and Singapore straits.
The centre said the number of incidents surpassed the 99 attacks in the same period in 2013. However, no specific data on crim the Malacca Strait was available.
According to a report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released earlier this year, attacks against small tankers off Southeast Asia's coasts caused a rise in global ship hijackings, up to 21 in 2014 from 12 in 2013, despite piracy at sea falling to its lowest level in eight years, with pirates taking 442 crew-members hostage, compared with 304 in 2013.
The IMB's annual piracy report shows 245 incidents were recorded worldwide in 2014 - a 44 per cent drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011.
The IMB had commended the Indonesian Water Police's efforts to stem the increase in attacks in identified port hotspots. Outside port limits, pirates are particularly active in the waters around Bintan Island and the South China Sea, where 11 vessels were hijacked in 2014. Actions taken by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Indonesian authorities and other maritime forces of regional coastal states have played a key role in responding to the attacks, the bureau said.