Maritime group urges Indonesia to increase anti-piracy patrols after spike in attacks

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An international maritime group urged Indonesia on Thursday to increase patrols in the South China Sea after pirates attacked nine vessels in less than three weeks.

The International Maritime Bureau said pirates armed with guns and machetes had robbed tankers and bulk carriers of cash and other valuables in the attacks off the Indonesian islands of Mangkai, Anambas and Natuna.

This brought the number of pirate attacks so far this year to 26 in the area, which is a transit route used by vessels heading southeast to the Singapore Straits or northwest to East Asia and the Pacific Ocean. Only seven attacks were reported all of last year.

The latest spate of attacks began Aug. 16, with pirates attacking mostly at night and sometimes raiding two to three vessels on the same day, said Noel Choong, who heads the IMB's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur. The last attack occurred Wednesday when six pirates boarded and robbed a Panama tanker before escaping.

"Three crewmen were injured in the latest series of attacks. It seems one or more pirate groups are operating in the area. The IMB is concerned about the heightened piracy and has sent a letter to the Indonesian authorities requesting them to increase patrols in the area," Choong said.

The IMB also urged ships to maintain a strict anti-piracy watch because pirates normally abort their attacks if they are spotted, he added.