Threat Assessment: Bali – Kota Kinabalu, N.Borneo
Intelligence Cut-off Date: 16 June 2017
Indonesian and Malaysian waters off the eastern coast of the island of Borneo, which comprises of Malaysia’s Sabah and Indonesia’s Kalimantan, have seen a significant spike in hijackings and abductions-for-ransom since March 2016. These have mostly been conducted by the Philippine Islamist group Abu Sayyaf (ASG) which is based in the Jolo and Basilan islands of the Sulu Sea. The incidents have targeted slow-moving tugboats which are manned by Indonesian and Malaysian crewmembers, leading to at least 26 hostages being taken, ten of whom were freed after Indonesia paid ransoms. The trend threatens more than USD 40 bn worth of cargo which passes through the Sulu and Celebes seas every year, though it is unlikely ASG has the capability to target larger, faster vessels. In April 2016, Indonesian Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan warned that the region could become a “new Somalia” if the trend continues.
The Philippines has maritime disputes with China over territory in the South China Sea, which have the potential to escalate into limited clashes and undermine shipping routes. China’s aggressive island-building activities, militarisation of the seas and offshore exploration activities have escalated tension with claimants Vietnam and the Philippines, among others. Attempts to counter the Chinese activities have led to naval clashes as well as attacks by Chinese fishermen militia. The Philippines’ relations with the US, Japan and Vietnam have been generally strengthened in the face of China’s aggression, though President Rodrigo Duterte’s abrasive rhetoric against US influence in the country has damaged ties with Washington, which could affect the outcome of the South China Sea disputes. China’s uncompromising stance to a legal solution and desire to curb US military influence in the region will prolong the conflict, with a resolution unlikely to be reached in the medium term.
Piracy is also a significant concern in Philippine waters, with an increase in pirate attacks since 2016 resulting in several fatalities and tens of kidnappings. Militant group ASG has responded to increased military operations by seeking to raise revenues through ransoms by targeting Indonesian vessels in the Sulu and Celebes seas. Kidnappings have also targeted foreign nationals on yachts off Palawan and other popular resort destinations. Poor maritime law enforcement means that militant and criminal groups can operate freely off the coast of restive Mindanao.
Map: Activity 16 April – 16 June
Incidents: On 01 June robbers boarded an anchored bulk carrier and stole ships’ properties. The incident took place in Indonesia’s Cilacap Anchorage, and the robbers escaped undetected. The theft was noticed by then duty crew at around 04:00hrs local time.
On 02 May, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) released two kidnapped government workers at Pakitul, Sulu, as the group comes under increasing pressure due to military operations. ASG had demanded a USD 40,000 ransom for one of the hostages.
On 19 April, three robbers boarded a bulk carrier anchored at Samarinda anchorage, East Kalimantan province, at 02:00hrs local time. Crew sighted the assailants, mustered and raised the alarm, prompting them to flee empty handed.
Bali is among Indonesia’s most popular tourist destinations, with around 4mn tourists travelling to the island in 2015. Among the greatest threats to personnel living or travelling in Bali is organised crime, which is entrenched in the city’s tourism and entertainment sector and has led to petty and drug-related crime. Volcanic eruptions also have the potential to restrict movement to and from Bali, with the international airport regularly facing disruption due to safety issues. Bali has not seen a terrorist attack since 2005, but its location as a popular destination for foreign tourists means it remains a key target for attacks by jihadists in Indonesia.
The high levels of piracy have led to improved regional coordination in monitoring key shipping lanes by the navies of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Cooperation with the Philippines and Malaysia was increased in mid-2016 to combat the rise in abductions in the Sulu and Celebes seas. Indonesia and Vietnam have also signed an agreement to conduct joint maritime border patrols and improve information sharing on maritime security in the South China Sea. However, the anti-piracy activities focusing on major shipping lanes have had negligible impact on response capability in Indonesian waters south of the Singapore Strait, which continues to experience the majority of attacks in Southeast Asia. Indonesia’s vast archipelago is too large to be policed effectively by the national police force and the Indonesian navy, with many vessels ageing or unsuitable to pursue pirates into shallow waters. The government is seeking to improve maritime security in its domestic waters with the acquisition of up to 40 new fast patrol boats during a period of between 10 and 15 years.
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