Namely, Mr Christopher de Souza asked the Minister for Defence

  1.  what new tactics have been designed by those responsible for the rise in actual and attempted piracy and robbery cases in the Singapore Strait and its surrounding waters;
  2. what measures can be deployed to deter and eliminate such threats; and
  3. how will the revised Standard Operating Procedures signed at the 14th Malacca Straits Patrol Joint Coordinating Committee Meeting address the rise in the number of piracy and robbery cases in the straits of Malacca and Singapore.

To that, the Minister for Defence replied that against specific incidents, "our national maritime agencies can only act in our territorial waters, which we did in two of these incidents, where the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Police Coast Guard (PCG) boarded these ships to rule out any residual security risks, prior to their entry into Singapore's ports."

What is more, the Minister said that all perpetrators are based and operate outside Singapore's territorial waters, and therefore

We are working with our neighbours to share information and collect intelligence, so that Singapore can be better prepared to meet such threats.

In fact, for incidents outside its waters, Singapore has longstanding cooperation with navies and coast guards of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to deal with transnational maritime piracy, robbery and other security threats.

Recently, at the 14th Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP) Joint Coordination Committee meeting, the navies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand revised the MSP Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to enhance the region's ability to tackle sea robbery in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

This included a commitment to quarterly exercises to sharpen information exchange processes, as well as an updated set of suspicious contact indicators to assist investigation efforts of sea robbery incidents. It is added that beyond regular conduct of sea and air patrols under the MSP, joint training and exercises as well as information sharing strengthen understanding and collaboration to deal with maritime incidents together.

The RSN's Information Fusion Centre (IFC) shares information with neighbours on a regular basis to help in deterring possible perpetrators and successfully responding to sea robbery attempts.

The Minister for Defence underlined that on a day-to-day basis, the RSN also works alongside other local maritime agencies such as the PCG and Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) through the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre (SMCC); a Whole-of-Government set-up that maintains maritime situation picture; drives sense-making efforts; and coordinates responses to potential maritime security threats.

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The Minister said that "we want to step up deeper sharing in information and intelligence with maritime and enforcement agencies within Malaysia and Indonesia." Remarkably, the Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF) is also making plans to restructure itself, such as beefing up its assets, in order to deal with such incidents at sea. With a review expected to be completed in the next few months.

Earlier in January, Grad informed that the number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Strait jumped nearly fourfold during 2019. Gard advised ships transiting the Singapore Strait to remain vigilant and maintain an adequate anti-piracy watch.

A total of 31 piracy incidents were recorded in the Singapore Strait by 30 December 2019 compared to eight in 2018, as reported by data from the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCaap ISC).

Moreover, while there is an equal distribution of incidents in the westbound and eastbound lanes of the strait over the last 12 months; 12 of the 16 incidents recorded in the eastbound lane occurred in a relatively short period between 23 November and 30 December 2019.