Malacca Strait ships threatened by rebels : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

The following was published in the September 06 2001 edition of LLoyds List:

Malacca Strait ships threatened by rebels By David Osler ISLAMIC rebels in Indonesia's Aceh province are threatening to target vessels using one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, as part of their struggle for independence from Jakarta.

All ships passing through the Malacca Strait have been ordered to seek permission from the Gerakin Aceh Merdeka, or Free Aceh Movement, a spokesman has told a leading wire service.

The Indonesian armed forces insist the group lacks the muscle to impose any meaningful blockade on the vast number of ships using the key waterway, and has pledged to redouble naval patrols.

However, the guerilla threat cannot be taken lightly after GAM forces last week attacked Honduras-registered Ocean Silver, a small vessel of unspecified type, as she passed through the Strait. Six of her 12 Indonesian crew are still be held hostage. A botched rescue bid saw two rebels and a soldier killed in a shoot out. Ocean Silver is owned by Tanoto Guan Hai of Singapore.

Brian Parkinson, security adviser to the International Chamber of Shipping, said: "This is the first time we have heard of any revolutionary activity, rather than criminal activity, directed against shipping in the Strait. "This is a new development that will have to be watched and brought to the attention of the authorities."

GAM has also underlined its landside capabilities by forcing Exxon Mobil Corp to shut its onshore fields in Aceh for four months this year after persistent rebel attacks.

The International Maritime Bureau is taking the situation sufficiently seriously to issue a warning on its website. "Ships are advised to avoid anchoring along the Indonesian coast of the Malacca straits unless required for urgent operational reasons," it says. "The coast near Aceh is particularly risky. Ships calling at [the] Indonesian ports of Belawan, Dumai, Merak, Samarinda and Tanjong Priok have reported numerous attacks whilst at berth and at anchor. Recently a number of ships have been hijacked in Indonesian waters. In view of the recent spate in hijackings, ship owners are advised to install a satellite tracking system on board."

Concerns over violence are growing since a recent interview with GAM spokesman Tengku Ishak, carried by Associated Press. "Even though we are not fully independent yet, we have the power to block ships," the spokesman threatened. GAM has been fighting to end Indonesian rule on the northernmost province on Sumatra since 1976, which has extensive oil and gas resources. The conflict has seen thousands killed in the last decade, mostly at the hands of security forces.

But threatening shipping in the Strait - already one of the world's worst piracy hotspots - is a new tactic for the group. Over 50,000 tankers, freighters and other merchant vessels use the Strait between the Indian and Pacific Oceans every year.

Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who came to power last month, has ruled out independence for Aceh's 4m people. Instead, she is proposing limited autonomy, with Aceh getting to keep 70% of its oil and gas revenue from 2002. Aceh currently receives around 15% of oil revenue and 30% of gas revenue

-- Rich Marsh (, September 24, 2001

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