The Spaces in Between: Four Cases of Politics beyond the Bounds

Journal of International Affairs, Fall-Winter 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Spaces in Between: Four Cases of Politics beyond the Bounds


26 March 2000--A 3,000 gross tonnage Singapore flag general cargo vessel, Asean Energy, at anchor off Bintulu reported being boarded via the hawse pipe by three persons armed with long knives. They broke into the forecastle paint room and the stole ship's stores. When noticed by the crew, they jumped overboard and escaped in a high-speed boat.

6 April 2000--A 30,200 gross tonnage Turkish-registered bulk carrier, Hidir Selek, reported being boarded at the stern by three persons armed with long knives while at anchor at Merak. The boarders tried to seize the duty watchman who jumped over the side, to be later rescued by the vessel's crew. The alarm was raised and the boarders left the vessel.

7 May 2000--While on passage to Sandakan at 07.12[degrees]N: 118.12[degrees]E, the duty officer on a 22,500 Greek flag bulk carrier Seabee reported the approach of a suspicious craft from starboard side while another unlit wooden boat came alongside from port side. Persons in the boat attempted to board using a hook attached to a rope. The alarm was raised and the ship's siren sounded at which point the two boats left.

24 September 2000--A 22,500 gross tonnage Cypriot-registered bulk carrier Storm Wind, loading cargo at Sandakan, reported being boarded by two persons armed with long knives. They were seen trying to open the paint locker while twelve other persons waited in two boats tied to the anchor chain. The duty officer fired rocket flares at them and the attempt was thwarted. A second attempt to board was also foiled due to crew alertness.

5 October 2000--While at anchor off Sandakan at 05.49[degrees]N: 118.07[degrees]E, a 1,200 gross tonnage Indonesian tanker Allwell Perfect reported being boarded by four persons armed with knives. An officer was threatened and the lock to the paint store broken before the duty officer raised the alarm and the boarders fled.

11 December 2000--A 4,900 gross tonnage Panama registered multi-purpose vessel, Tradenes, anchored off Tanjong Manis, Sarawak and loading cargo, reported being boarded by six persons armed with knives, who broke into the paint locker. The alarm was raised and the crew mustered on deck. The intruders jumped overboard and fled taking 1,000 liters of paint.

31 December 2000--Two vessels, South Pacific and Pacific 1, anchored off Tanjung Piai, Johor state, reported that the crew had been held hostage by around 20 persons armed with pistols. Several thousand Singapore dollars were stolen. The local Marine Police Commander stated that initial investigations suggested the perpetrators may have originated from Batam Island (Indonesia). The thieves were said to appear to have had some military training.

* In 2000, the Straits of Malacca experienced a record 220 piratical attacks. The above are examples from that tumultuous year. Source: The International Chamber of Shipping.


The Straits of Malacca (also called the Strait of Malacca) was considered relatively safe prior to 1989, with approximately seven cases of piracy and armed robbery reported annually. By 1989, the figure rose in 28 then jumped to about 50 per year by 1991. These figures brought significant alarm given that the Straits are considered one of the busiest waterways in the world, used by up to 200 ships daily. In some stretches, the Straits are shallow and narrow and require precise navigation.

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), pirates often employ a pattern of boarding ships undetected at night, and then make their way to the vessel's bridge. Once there, they overpower the officer on navigational watch and either tie him up or handcuff him to the rail while the rest of the pirates raid the master's and crew cabins for money and valuables.

On 22 October 1999, the cargo ship Alondra Rainbow departed the Indonesian port of Kuala Tanjung with $10 million worth of aluminum goods, bound for the port of Mike in Japan.

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The Spaces in Between: Four Cases of Politics beyond the Bounds


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