The navies of ASEAN member countries are to join forces and hold a joint operation to uncover the masterminds behind incidents of piracy in the Malacca Strait which have recurred recently.
'We will work together with ASEAN member countries to track the masterminds of crimes in the Malacca Strait. One of the masterminds is believed to be outside Indonesia but in a nearby country,' The Indonesian Navy's Western Fleet (Armabar) commander Rear Admiral Taufiqurrahman said at the Western Fleet Sea Security Unit in Batam, Riau Islands, on Tuesday.
He said the Indonesia Navy would deploy two armed BO helicopters in Batam during the operation to secure the Malacca Strait against criminal acts.
Based on Armabar data from January until June this year, 56 cases of piracy had taken place in the Malacca Strait, of which 21 were cases of suspected piracy, 22 attempted piracies and 13 real piracies.
Taufiqurrahman, who led the operation to free the KM Sinar Kudus vessel which was hijacked in Somalia some time ago, said Armabar had formed the Western Fleet Quick Response (WFQR) team in the past four months to respond to crimes in the Malacca Strait.
He gave his assurances that the Malacca Strait was safe, unlike waters off Somalia, because ASEAN countries, as coastal countries, were still able to provide security to users of the Malacca Strait.
According to Taufiqurrahman, the success of intercepting pirates who recently hijacked the Malaysian-owned MT Orkim Harmony was attributed to cooperation between Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam which paved the way for further cooperation and the joint operation between navies from 10 ASEAN member countries.
'An ASEAN pact actually has proposed the establishment of an ASEAN Navy, but it is still being discussed. However, the MT Orkim Harmony hijacking could pave the way for fixed procedures of a joint operation,' said Taufiqurrahman.
The MT Orkim Harmony was hijacked on June 11 when the tanker, which employed 22 crew, consisting of five Indonesians, 16 Malaysians and a Myanmarese, suddenly went missing from radar. It was last seen on the radar in waters off Johor Bahru in Malaysia.
The tanker was carrying 6,000 metric tons of gasoline worth 21 million Malaysian ringgit from Singapore to Kuantan in Pahang, Malaysia. After it went missing, ship operator Magna Meridian Sdn. Bhd. reported the suspected piracy to Malaysian authorities.
The Malaysian navy reported that the tanker's crew had regained control from June 19 and the vessel was currently being escorted by the navy to Kuantan. The arrest was accredited to the cooperation between the Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai and Singaporean navies.
As reported, eight of the hijackers, identified as Indonesians, were arrested off the coast of Vietnam on the same day. The Indonesian Navy later intercepted the TB Meulaboh tugboat in waters off Batam. The tugboat was used by the hijackers to take over the MT Orkim Harmony.
Earlier, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu emphasized the importance of securing the Malacca Strait not only from illegal fishing but also from crime and environmental damage.