JOHOR BARU - Pirates are masquerading as sea traders in ferries and small boats to identify vessels that are carrying valuable cargo or are easy pickings.
Less gung-ho these days due to increased enforcement by the authorities, the pirates no longer just attack any vessel that crosses their path.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said that the pirates have become smarter and more cautious.
A similar tactic was used by a group of eight pirates who were caught in waters off Pengerang in south-east Johor late last year, it said.
MMEA southern region enforcement chief, Maritime First Admiral Adon Shalan, said that the pirates have become desperate due to increased enforcement by the agency and its counterparts in Singapore and Indonesia.
"Most of these pirates are more cautious now about which vessels they target because they are afraid of getting caught," he said, adding that it was especially worrying for those operating in Malaysian waters because of our strict laws.
So, Adon said, pirate gangs have turned to using ferry boats and water taxis to ply the route between Batam and Malaysia or Singapore in order to survey any potential targets.
"Once these scouts find a worthwhile or easy target, another pirate vessel disguised as a sea trader will approach the marked vessel, offering to sell fruits, food or goods to the crew.
"While the crew are buying the items, the pirates are counting heads and checking out security measures on the targeted vessel before attacking," he said.