When our friend Lindsey was visiting us recently, we were having a conversation about going to Melaka, and one of us mentioned something about the pirates that hang around off the coast over there. She didn’t believe us at first, and then made us promise to do a post about pirates at some point.
First off, yes they do exist. As long as there have been people in this region there have been pirates sailing around, ambushing boats, and stealing cargo. Part of the reason that there are so many in this area is that Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra are very close together. The narrow straits (only 1.5 miles wide at some points) are a good place for fast pirate boats to hide out and make quick attacks on the big ships coming through. There’s also the fact that historically, this area was the meeting ground for traders from China and India (and Europe), so there have always been valuable goods moving through the area. Even today, much of the cargo that goes to or from anywhere in Asia goes through here at some point. It is the fastest sea route between China, India, and Indonesia and approximately one third of the world’s oil supply passes through the Strait of Melaka.
Since coming to Southeast Asia, we’ve seen reports of pirate attacks regularly in the newpaper. Recently, there was a story about a ship carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of palm oil that was attacked between Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. Some Indonesian guys snuck onto the boat, took control, and steered it to some hidden pirate cove they had. There they had their own big boat waiting (stolen, of course), and they transported the cargo to their ship and took it for a joy ride until they were caught. I’m not sure exactly what they were planning on doing with it, but I assume there’s a black market for just about anything.
Policing the straits has been a big issue for Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, and we’ve seen several reports bashing Indonesia for not participating more in the effort to catch pirates. Of course, as some of them point out, when your navy is not being paid, they don’t have much of an incentive to go off and fight crime. Plus, there are all sorts of issues about which countries are in charge of which areas, and the whole thing is very complicated.
As a side note, they also have "road pirates" here. My (jm) boss was telling me about this one day as we were going to a presentation. There is one big north-south highway that leads from KL down to Singapore. Apparently, when trucks are sent with electronic goods down to Singapore, people will sometimes ambush them and steal the cargo. Because of this, the companies hire fleets of heavily armed security guards to drive along in a convoy to make sure that nobody makes off with the goods. However, this doesn’t always seem to work so well. Somebody will slip a guard a little money, and they will take a convenient bathroom break by the side of the road for ten minutes while the cargo disappears.