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Three Nations Fight The Modern Scourge Pirate Redux

A "pirate" boat (R) is pursued by a Royal Thai Marine Police patrol boat (C), together with a Malaysian Marine Police speedboat (L) and Japanese Coast Guard Bell 212 helicopter during a joint anti-piracy exercise off the western Thailand coast near the Tarutao Islands, 02 February 2007. The alert crackles over walkie-talkies -- a cargo ship has been attacked by pirates, crew members have been taken hostage and two others are drifting at sea in a lifeboat. In calm seas and under clear blue skies, marine security forces from Japan, Malaysia and Thailand swing into action, launching a dramatic rescue operation involving patrol boats and helicopters. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Elisia Yeo
Langkawi (AFP) Feb 04, 2007
The alert crackles over walkie-talkies -- a cargo ship has been attacked by pirates, crew members have been taken hostage and two others are drifting at sea in a lifeboat. In calm seas and under clear blue skies, marine security forces from Japan, Malaysia and Thailand swing into action, launching a dramatic rescue operation involving patrol boats and helicopters.

Only this time, it's an exercise, the first combining the three nations in the notoriously piracy-prone Malacca Strait, one of the world's most important waterways and Southeast Asia's equivalent of the Panama Canal.

With nearly all of the oil powering its economy travelling through the Strait, Japan has said it is willing to help guard the waterway and has stepped up aid to fight piracy on the high seas.

The Japanese Coast Guard's patrol vessel "Yashima" played the role of the "Juliet", a hijacked Japanese cargo ship, and steamed north from Malaysia's resort island of Langkawi into Thai waters for the exercise last Friday.

A Malaysian policeman in pirate rig -- khaki trousers, a green paisley shirt and matching bandana -- lounged on the Yashima's decks waiting for his turn in the exercise off Thailand's Phuket island.

"He is the chief of pirates," joked a fellow Malaysian police officer.

Despite the smiles, officials were anxious to see how well the three countries coordinated efforts to deal with attacks, working across language barriers and different operating styles.

Deputy superintendent of a Malaysian special operations squadron, Abdul Razak Mohamad Yusof, was watching keenly to see how his commandos performed.

"How fast they can board the ship from a helicopter and how vigorously they move clearing the deck looking for perpetrators, how do they perform the searching, the clearance. And how they neutralise the enemy," he said.

After receiving the alert over the walkie-talkie, a Thai patrol boat sped to rescue the two crew members, throwing a tow rope to their life raft and hauling them on board.

Marine police from Thailand and Malaysia and the Japan Coast Guard then prepared to chase pirates who were making a getaway, and board the stricken "Juliet" to arrest two remaining pirates who had taken the crew hostage.

In a movie-style climax to the three-hour exercise, Malaysian special forces commandos rappelled from a helicopter onto the bow of the Yashima, backed by rocket sound effects and pea-green smoke.

Two pirates were chased around the ship by the commandos and other masked Malaysian police before a shootout. The sullen "pirates" were forced to the ground, their guns kicked away and their wrists cuffed -- although one commando struggled to quickly fix plastic handties onto a pirate.

The exercise was part of Japan's efforts to boost cooperation with Southeast Asian countries around the Malacca Strait, which is bounded by the littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Ships from Europe, the Middle East and Asia carrying about one-third of global trade pass through the waterway annually, while some 11 million barrels of oil pass through it daily.

But the Strait is notoriously prone to attacks from pirates looking for money, equipment and valuable cargo.

In one incident in July last year, pirates attacked an Indonesian-flagged vessel chartered by the United Nations carrying tsunami relief cargo to northern Sumatra, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

Over a five-year period from 2002 to 2006, pirate attacks reached their peak when 38 were recorded in 2004, and governments and analysts have warned terrorists could also use the narrow sea lane to launch strikes. Littoral states have substantially increased sea and air patrols in recent years, pumping in resources to curb the scourge in efforts which lead to a decline in attacks to 12 in 2005, and then 11 in 2006, according to the IMB.

But lingering anxiety over its safety have translated into offers of security assistance not only from Japan, but from Australia, Britain, China, New Zealand and the United States.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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