As reported on TheAge.com.au
June 5, 2008: Incidents of piracy have spiked across the world since 2000 but there is no evidence to support fears of extremist groups linking up with pirates for their operations, a new study finds.
It attributed the rise to the expansion of the global sea trade, congested chokepoints, corrupt officials, shifting spending priorities, lax coastal and port security, and the availability of small arms.
“Combined with the large number of ports around the world, this growth has provided pirates with an almost limitless range of tempting, high pay-off targets,” said the study by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit organization.
The study, which was authored by Peter Chalk, said 2,463 actual or attempted acts of piracy occurred between 2000 and the end of 2006, nearly a quarter of them in waters around the Indonesian archipelago.
The average annual rate of incidents during those years was 68 per cent higher than in the previous six-year period, it said.
But it said fears that extremist groups would use pirate gangs and networks to move material or fighters or to carry out attacks have not materialized.
“To date, there has been no credible evidence to support speculation about such a nexus emerging,” the report said.
“Just as importantly, the objectives of the two actors remain entirely distinct.”
Nevertheless, the report said, governments, international organizations, and major shipping interests remain concerned that extremist groups could exploit the same vulnerabilities in commercial maritime trade that attract pirates.
“There have been persistent reports of political extremists boarding vessels in Southeast Asia in an apparent effort to learn how to pilot them for a rerun of 9/11 at sea,” it said.
“Indeed, such a specter was a principal factor in driving the Lloyd’s Joint War Council to briefly designate the Malacca Straits as an area of enhanced risk in 2005,” the study said.
It said there has been “a modest yet highly discernible spike in high-profile terrorist incidents at sea over the past six years.”
“In addition, there has been a spate of significant maritime terrorist plots that have been pre-empted before execution,” it said.
Planned strikes included an aborted attack against the USS The Sullivans in January 2000; bombings of US naval ships sailing in Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian waters; suicide strikes against western shipping interests in the Mediterranean; small boat rammings of supertankers transiting the Strait of Gibraltar; and attacks on cruise liners taking Israeli tourists to Turkey, the report said.
“Combined, these various incidents have galvanized fears in the west that terrorists, especially militants connected with the international jihadist network, are moving to decisively extend operational mandates beyond purely land-based theatres,” the report said.