SINGAPORE: The Singapore Strait saw 38 attacks in 2022 compared to 12 in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic sheds light as to why. Jade Lindley and Dhiyaul Aulia Huda looked into “The Surprising Link Between Piracy and COVID-19” in a piece published on Oct 1 (Sunday) in The Interpreter, which was also shared in The Maritime Executive.
“What created the conditions for a surge in Singapore Strait piracy? Coinciding with the 2020–22 timeframe is of course the Covid-19 pandemic – a global health and economic crisis that triggered national restrictions affecting coastal and fishing communities in Southeast Asia. Further investigation into the link between the pandemic and increased piracy revealed heightened motivation to offend and decreased efforts to prevent attacks in known piracy hotspots,” the authors wrote.
They noted how the socio-economic effects of the pandemic affected less advantaged communities keenly, similar to what happened during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis.
In coastal communities, economic difficulties may push shipyard workers, seafarers and fishers who found themselves unemployed to piracy, noted Ms Lindley and Ms Aulia Huda.
Lockdowns and shutdowns affected the maritime and fishing sectors, making workers more financially vulnerable.
Early in the pandemic, seafood exports decreased by as much as 70 per cent, causing as many as 2.7 million Indonesian fishers to fall below the national poverty line.
Closing ports also meant seafarers were restricted, and operations declined.
However, in looking into why the Singapore Strait became a piracy hotspot compared to other parts of Southeast Asia, the authors came up with three reasons.
First, “institutional capacity was weakened throughout Covid-19 due to the reallocation of resources from maritime security to healthcare and social security.”
As a result, funding for agencies surveilling the area was restricted.
“Second, the Singapore Strait has a decentralized maritime security framework, as it is composed of the territorial waters of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Singapore Strait’s maritime security architecture and surveillance, therefore, relies on cooperative mechanisms between the littoral states, which can result in sovereignty concerns and ambiguity over laws for the ‘right of hot pursuit’. Regime complexity in the governance of waters can result in regulatory gaps that hinder transnational approaches to combat piracy,” the authors added.
This reason is related to geopolitical conditions “that can result in the absence of capable guardianship.”
With the Indonesian navy deployed to the South China Sea to advance Indonesia’s claim to the Natuna Sea, there were fewer maritime patrols in the Singapore Strait from December 2019.
This lessened surveillance of the areas means more opportunities for piracy in the Singapore Strait.
“Lessons learned can usefully inform future industry disruptions, such as supporting the livelihoods of fishing industry workers and maintaining capable guardianship to prevent future piracy surges,” the authors wrote. /TISG