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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 00:42 GMT
Asia mulls piracy measures
tanker
Oil tankers are frequently targeted by pirates
By Jonathan Head in Singapore

A conference on piracy opens on Wednesday in Singapore, involving delegates from 15 East Asian countries keen to reduce the number of attacks in vital shipping lanes.

Armed attacks against international shipping increased sharply last year - especially in the busy sea lanes around Indonesia, where the number of incidents doubled.

Japan, which sends many of its traded goods via south-east Asian waters, has proposed sending its own coastguard vessels down to help curb the pirate attacks.

High seas

The seas around Indonesia and Singapore are some of the busiest in the world, and some of the most dangerous.

Skull and crossbones
Shiver me timbers, pirates ahoy
Last year, more than 100 ships were hijacked by pirates in Indonesian waters, a reflection of the growing lawlessness in the rest of the country.

The local authorities are either powerless to stop the big and well-armed international syndicates behind the attacks; or the local military is actively involved with the pirates.

Using small, fast-moving boats, the pirates creep up on large cargo ships - often at night - and can usually overpower the crew quickly.

The crew is then either set adrift or killed.

The ships are renamed and repainted. Many have later been discovered operating along the southern coast of China.

International effort

The offer by Japan to send its own patrol boats is the first sign of a co-ordinated international campaign against the pirates.

There are still lingering sensitivities in this region over Japan's wartime role 60 years ago, but some local government officials have welcomed the suggestion.

The conference in Singapore is likely to be the first in a series of meetings this year.

A British company has even proposed putting retired Gurkha officers on board ships in East Asian waters to protect them, although so far, no one has taken them up on their offer.

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See also:

28 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
China executes pirates
03 Feb 99 |  Asia-Pacific
South East Asia: piracy hot-spot
03 Feb 99 |  Asia-Pacific
'China letting pirates go free'
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