“Recent Tanker Hijackings Add to Problems in the South China Sea”
The New York Times, July 9, 2014, p.A10
“Add another problem to the rising tensions in the South China Sea this year: a mysterious spate of tanker hijackings since late April, as armed bands of men have boarded and commandeered the ships, siphoned their cargos of diesel and gasoline onto barges or other tankers, and fled into the night. … Interpol, intelligence agencies and military forces in the region are investigating the eight attacks — the most recent of which was last Friday…. One goal of the investigation is to determine whether the diesel fuel and gasoline are being sold for profit by criminals or are being used to finance political activities, possibly even terrorism. … The hijackings raise geopolitical issues. Seven have taken place close to Malaysia and one close to the Anambas Islands of Indonesia. But two of the hijackings close to Malaysia occurred in waters near James Shoal, a disputed, submerged reef near the north coast of Malaysian Borneo. Malaysia has had commercial activities there for many years, and it is a center of the country’s extensive offshore oil and gas industry. Oil and gas revenues cover nearly half of the Malaysian government’s budget. … The hijackings also come at a time of considerable nervousness about jihadist recruiting efforts in Malaysia, which is heavily Sunni Muslim. The Malaysian authorities have detained more than a dozen people in the past month, reportedly including a Malaysian naval officer, in an investigation into recruiting and other support activities on behalf of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the militant group that has seized control of a large part of northwestern Iraq.”
Quickie Analysis: Globalization of trade, globalization of money flow, globalization of crime. Do the hijackings represent terrorism links or just easy pickings for criminal gangs? Hard to say, but because it is now known that Malaysia and Indonesia have bans on private armed guards aboard ships, the tankers will probably continue to seem like low-hanging fruit to someone.