Shipping companies are avoiding the waters in the Sulu and Celebes Seas west of the Philippines, which have become a “piracy hotspot,” the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and marine security agencies said.
The surge in piracy in the area is forcing shipowners to divert vessels through other waters, increasing costs and extending the time it takes to transport goods, the agency said.
The warning follows a recent report from the IMB, which is an agency of the International Chamber of Commerce, that said while piracy incidents worldwide in 2016 were at their lowest level since 1998, crew kidnappings had reached a 10-year high.
The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) said there have been 16 attacks since last March on ships in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, through which about $40 billion worth of cargo passes each year.
The multilateral anti-piracy organization says over a dozen crewmembers are currently being held hostage by Filipino Abu Sayyaf militants, all from ships sailing through the Sulu and Celebes Seas.
“The Sulu/Celebes area is the world’s fastest growing piracy hotspot, with violent attacks on commercial vessels and their crews, and an increasingly successful kidnap and ransom business model,” said Gerry Northwood, chief operating officer at armed guard company Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST).
The International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur also issued a warning about the rising threat of armed pirates in these waters.
As a result of the threat, many shipping companies are rerouting their vessels to the east of the Philippines and avoiding the Sulu and Celebes Seas.
Singapore-based Oskar Wehr Asia said it has shifted all of its voyages away from the area.“Increasing piracy particularly in the Sulu Sea has been a rising concern for us, and we are doing our best to avoid the area both on empty and laden voyages. We’d rather do that than put the ship and crew’s lives at risk. It’s very sad to see this happening in this region,” Oskar Wehr Chartering Manager Benedikt Brueggermann said.
Shipping data from Thomson Reuters Eikon showed that several large vessels that regular carry iron ore from Australia to northern Asia have abandoned their regular Sulu Sea route in favor of sailing through the open Pacific east of the Philippines.
An informal poll of six shipping companies with offices in Manila revealed that all are diverting vessels to the same route, except for ships bound for ports in northern Borneo, which in most cases can travel via the South China Sea west of Palawan.
The Thomson Reuters Eikon data indicated that the new route avoiding the Sulu Sea increasing sailing time by about half a day between Port Hedland, Western Australia (a major ore shipment port) and ports in China.
Shippers quoted in a report by Reuters said that increased costs are not much, about $300 per day for fuel, but that they were concerned the added expenses would accumulate over time.