The continued occurrence of incidents in the Singapore Strait was significantly highlighted in ReCAAP ISC monthly piracy report in July, as well as ReCAAP ISC half yearly report.

In this regard, ReCAAP ISC issued a 'Special Report on Incidents Involving Tug Boats and Barges in the Singapore Strait' to alert the shipping industry and law enforcement agencies to the increase in the number of incidents involving tug boats towing barges in the Singapore Strait, particularly the theft of scrap metal from barges.

Although all the 14 incidents were CAT 4 (petty theft) in nature, as the perpetrators were not armed and the crew not harmed, the ReCAAP ISC is concerned about the increase in the number of incidents. With 14 incidents occurred over a period of seven months (Feb-Aug 2019), it is about an average of two incidents occurred per month.


Key figures

  • From the 98 incidents involving tug boats and barges in the Singapore Strait, the 25 incidents (26%) were theft of scrap metal from barges and 73 incidents (74%) were robbery incidents.
  • Of the 14 incidents reported in the Singapore Strait in 2019, nine incidents were theft of scrap metal from barges and the other five incidents were robbery cases.

  • All the 14 incidents during January-15 August 2019 were CAT 4 incidents.
  • Among the 25 incidents, 19 incidents (76%) occurred in the western sector and the other six incidents (24%) in the middle and eastern sector of the strait.


Key insights of the 25 incidents

-Number of perpetrators: Eleven of the 25 incidents (44%) have no information on the number of perpetrators since most of the time, the crew members of the tug boats were not aware of what was happening on the towed barges which were unmanned. For incidents with information on the number of perpetrators, five incidents involved groups of 1-3 men, two incidents involved 4-6 men, one incident involved 7-9 men and six incidents involved more than 9 men.

-Type of weapons: Of the 25 incidents, 22 incidents (88%) had no information on whether the perpetrators were armed; and three incidents reported that the perpetrators were not armed.

-Treatment of crew: There was no ‘physical encounter or contact’ between the crew and the perpetrators as the crew members were in the tug boats and the perpetrators were on the barges.

-Time of incidents: Of the 25 incidents, 17 incidents (68%) occurred during daylight hours (between 0700 and 1759 hrs) and eight incidents (32%) during hours of darkness (between 1800 hrs and 0559 hrs). Most of the incidents during daylight hours occurred between 1100 hrs and 1800 hrs; with the highest number of boarding occurred between 1300 hrs and 1400 hrs. As the barge was not manned, the perpetrators were rather bold in carrying out the theft during daylight hours.

-Flag of ships: Of the 25 incidents, 20 were Malaysia-registered tug boats, four were Singapore-registered tug boats and one had no information on the flag of the ship. There is no evidence to indicate that certain flag ships were targeted by the perpetrators. The perpetrators were opportunistic in nature and targeted ships that were less vigilant, slow moving and with low freeboard.

-Economic loss: The perpetrators were more interested in stealing scrap metal from the barges which indicates that the gains from selling the stolen scrap metal is lucrative and there is demand in ‘black markets’.



Prior to entering the area, ship masters are to conduct voyage risk assessment, prepare emergency communication plan, and adopt preventive measures taking reference from the ‘Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia’.

While transiting the area, the ship master and crew are advised to adopt the following measures:

  • Enhance vigilance, maximise alertness of lookouts for suspicious small boats and increase watch keeping
  • Maintain communication with their ship company by providing periodic updates and establish daily communication checks
  • Report all incidents, suspicious activities and presence of suspicious small boats in the vicinity to the nearest coastal State and flag State
  • Sound alarm when sighted suspicious boats loitering in the vicinity of the barge, or suspicious personnel on board the tug boat and barge
  • Listen to advisories and navigational broadcast

Feedback from some tug boat companies on the measures they adopt to prevent boarding by the perpetrators are as follows:

  • Shorten the tow line between the tug boat and barge while maintaining a safe distance
  • Ship company to maintain updates and daily communication with the ship master to ensure that the tug boat is on planned course
  • Satellite tracking of the tug boat
  • Ensure that the AIS on tug boat is switched ON
  • Use night vision binoculars during hours of darkness to facilitate checking the barge and the surroundings
  • Secure loose items onto the barge to prevent the perpetrators from taking them away easily
  • Sound the alarm immediately when sighted suspicious boats approaching the barge or perpetrators on the barge.

The ReCAAP ISC urges the relevant littoral States to step up surveillance, increase patrols and response promptly to all reports of incidents...Enhanced cooperation and coordination among the littoral States in information sharing and operational responses is required to address the increase in the number of incidents in the Singapore Strait,

...ReCAAP ISC recommends to relevant authorities.


Explore more by reading the full report: