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Countries Declare War on Pirates

November 17, 2000

ABOARD THE SHIKISHIMA (AP) _ In the waters off west Malaysia, four marine police commandos take three minutes to drop from their helicopter by ropes and disarm dagger-wielding men aboard this Japanese coast guard vessel.

``Mission accomplished,″ a voice crackles over a walkie-talkie in the simulated exercise. ``We have apprehended seven pirates. There are no casualties.″

It was the first-ever joint sea drill by Japan and Malaysia in the Malacca Strait _ the world’s most pirate-plagued waterway separating Malaysia from Indonesia’s Sumatra island _ and marked the climax of a regional meeting on how to control soaring sea piracy. It was the third anti-piracy conference in Asia this year.

But despite several suggestions, no consensus was reached on how to deal with the problem among the 40 security experts from 13 Asian countries who gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the two-day conference that started Tuesday.

Fueled by unrest and rising poverty in Indonesia, piracy in the 550-mile-long sea channel has soared, and could hurt the region’s development, experts say. Using sophisticated communication devices, pirates easily elude authorities by slipping through the strait’s numerous islets and reefs.

Malaysian authorities say that pirate attacks in the Malacca Strait have risen to 58 in the first 10 months of this year, compared to five for the whole of 1999. More than 50,000 ships a year use the sea lane, which links Europe and Asia.

In its latest survey, the London-based International Maritime Bureau blamed ``recurring political unrest and economic recession in Indonesia″ for the increase.

Hiroshi Terashima, executive director of Japan’s Nippon Foundation, opened the conference by stating that piracy in regional waters could ``undermine the basis for development in each country and affect individual people all across Asia.″

In an effort to address the problem, Malaysia proposed placing police on ships plying specific stretches of the Malacca Strait. But foreign officials declined the overture, saying this might lead pirates to use deadlier weapons and measures.

Japan, in turn, proposed dispatching its coast guard vessels to Southeast Asia as part of multinational anti-piracy patrols. Malaysia and Indonesia both said no thanks, they can handle their problems on their own.

``We have the capability to curb the problems in our territory,″ said Abdul Rahim Hussin, director of Malaysia’s Maritime Security Policy unit.

Malaysian authorities plan to purchase more advanced equipment, including satellite telephones and night-vision binoculars, and their police air forces are slated to begin surveillance over pirate-prone areas and share intelligence with their marine police counterparts.

Malaysian authorities also plan to step up checks on fishing vessels and speedboats that travel along the Malacca Strait.

Piracy is also a problem in the Philippines, said Captain Antonio Lalisan, a staff intelligence official with that country’s coast guard who attended the conference. ``But we are in the process of procuring more patrol boats and search-and-rescue vessels,″ he said.

Matsumori Shigeyuki, chief engineering officer of the Shikishima, said Wednesday’s mock operation simulating the rescue of a hijacked ship, conducted 12.5 miles west of Malaysia’s Klang port, was ``very realistic.″

The 453-feet-long Japanese vessel held a similar exercise last week off the coast of Madras with India’s coast guard.

Officials from Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam attended the anti-piracy conference.

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