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    Usually, talk of piracy in Southeast Asia refers to DVDs nowadays. But a Japanese tugboat has encountered the real deal, being attacked in the Strait of Malacca–very important shipping lane, which sees a lot more than tugboats–with three hostages taken. Two are Japanese; one is Filipino. It looks as if it just happened a few hours ago, so there’s little news. The rest of the crew are fine, and the Malaysian police are looking for them and their abductors. Very odd. Hope they’re recovered safe.

    Added on 17 March: The English Asahi has a follow-up story:

    The tugboat was on its way to Myanmar (Burma) from Singapore while towing a barge, Kuroshio 1, which carried 154 Japanese and Malaysian workers.

    In most cases of abductions committed by pirates, captains and chief engineers are taken simultaneously, and key documents stolen. Several days after an attack, the pirates demand ransom from the vessels’ owners after finding the right phone number written in the documents.

    The amount of ransom is usually several million yen so that the ship owners can easily pay, according to marine transportation industry sources. Once the ransom is paid, the hostages are released in one or two weeks at the earliest, they added.

    The Malacca Strait is notorious for pirate activity. But after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami off Sumatra in late December, there were no reports of piracy incidents for about two months. Some pirates apparently died in the disaster or lost their weapons.

    All of that makes sense. I mean, not as an honest way to make a living but as the way crime would work in the Strait of Malacca. I still think–sorry, guys–that this story is weird. You just don’t hear about things like this in Japan, unless I’m missing all the stories. And it’s not as if I were particularly hawk-eyed, but I do read multiple Japanese news sources per day, often watch the news on NHK or another network, and (most importantly) subscribe to the dead-tree Nikkei. Piracy in a major shipping lane is the sort of thing that affects commerce. If Japanese ships were being raided consistently, I’d expect the Nikkei, of all news outlets, to be all over it. You do hear about lots of encounters in the Sea of Japan (that’s the East Sea if you’re Korean), in the East and South China Seas–you know, suspicious boats passing without identifying themselves, or turning out to be North Korean patrols, things like that.

    In any case, no word today that I’ve seen that there’s any update on the case itself. Japan is, however, offering to help patrol the Strait of Malacca. There’s good reason:

    The decision, which came Tuesday, represents the first time the government will offer vessels to a developing country free of charge to deter pirates.

    The Malacca Strait has long been plagued by piracy. About 90 percent of Japan’s oil supply from the Middle East passes through this sea artery.

    6 Responses to “海賊”

    1. John says:

      The waters between Taiwan and Okinawa are some of the most dangerous in the world. Word is that some of the activity is PRC Navy looking to pick us extra cash because RenMinBi are worthless at most ports of call.

    2. BigFire says:

      Odd? High sea piracy is a very real and dangereous problem. There is only so much water that national coast guard can patrol. The South China Sea is dotted with thousands of uninhabited islands that can be pirate hideout. Straits of Malacca is another pirate favorite attack point. I’m still surprised at how little this problem is getting reported.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Yes–that’s why I mentioned that the Strait of Malacca is a strategic shipping lane. I know it’s a favorite attack point, but I figured the reason you don’t actually hear much about Japanese ships being jumped was that it was patrolled pretty well.
      Anyway, I do think it’s unusual for pirates to kidnap three people from a Japanese tugboat and not take anything else. Or maybe I just don’t understand piracy very well. (The report I read last night was so early it was only a paragraph long. They must have more information by now, such as that money or goods are actually missing.)

    4. John says:

      They might just have seen something they shouldn’t have, and not been hijacked for their money.

    5. BigFire says:

      The pirates will take anything of value. Sometimes they take crew member hostage for ransom. Sometimes when they’re more organized they went after the cargo itself.

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      I have no trouble believing that–or that the abductees were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and saw something going down elsewhere–but it still seems out of the ordinary. The Nikkei‘s job is to monitor things trade-related, after all.
      Major shipping lanes are dangerous–though the impossibility of checking every shipping container that comes into port has been more emphasized than the dangers of sea passage since 9/11, and not without reason–and if Japanese vessels were being targeted consistently in practice, it would be something with the potential to affect trade and we’d hear about it, right? Especially if it happened in Southeast Asia, which the Japanese media are always willing to portray as fraught with peril for the homefolks. I reacted to the story kind of the way I did to the Air China crash in Korea a few years ago–yeah, these things happen, but not usually to that entity in that way.