Maritime Piracy and Regional Cooperation: Interview with Dr. Sam Bateman

In light of our upcoming flagship event, the 2016 Model ASEAN Summit, we bring you an exclusive interview with Dr. Sam Bateman, where he will be discussing the role, impact, and limitations of regional cooperation in combating maritime piracy in Southeast Asia.

Dr. Bateman is widely recognised as a regional maritime security expert and regularly provides comments for Australian and international media. Before taking up the role of Professional Research Fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security (ANCORS), University of Wollongong, Dr. Bateman was a Commodore in the Royal Australian Navy, where his service included four ship commands ranging from a patrol boat to guided-missile destroyer. Currently, Dr. Bateman also acts as an Adviser to the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

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1) How strong and effective has regional cooperation, specifically information-sharing, been in the anti-piracy effort in Southeast Asia?

Regional cooperation, particularly with information-sharing, is now quite strong and effective in Southeast Asia. This is mainly through the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre1 (ReCAAP ISC) and the Singapore Navy’s Information Fusion Centre2 (IFC) at Changi Naval Base. Also the Malacca Straits Patrol Network3 and the SURPIC4arrangement between Indonesia and Singapore in the Singapore Straits.  

2) Do Southeast Asian Navies involved in the fight against piracy have the required capabilities to do so, and if not, what can be done to address this?

In broad terms, the navies do have the required capabilities with the possible exception of air surveillance i.e. maritime patrol aircraft. However, it must be remembered that there are limitations regarding what navies can do – few pirates are actually caught at sea – the fight against piracy begins on land. The main contribution of navies is through deterrence with their active patrolling and surveillance. There are also some sensitivities in the region with cooperation between navies – hence the role of coastguards, such as Malaysia’s MMEA5 and the growing role of Bakamla6 in Indonesia.

3) Is there scope for additional cooperation on the international level to combat piracy jointly, and how might this be more or less effective than what is currently being done?

I am a firm believer that much more could be done with cooperation between regional police forces. There’s a rule in policing – ‘follow the money’, and as I have said, the fight against piracy begins on land. And the more serious forms of regional piracy, such as the oil theft cases, are classic examples of transnational organised crime.

4) What do you see as current and potential obstacles to international cooperation on maritime piracy issues in the Southeast Asian and Australasian region?

Lack of agreed maritime boundaries are a major obstacle to cooperation, e.g. the lack of maritime boundaries in the Eastern and Western approaches to Singapore Strait, the South China Sea, the Sulu and Celebes sea areas between Borneo and the Philippines, and the northern part of the Malacca strait. Sensitivities on sovereignty issues, including between regional navies, are another obstacle.

You also need to look closely at where attacks are occurring – most are still in ports and anchorages – these are under the jurisdiction of the relevant port and coastal state – this means there could be some lack of capacity e.g. harbour patrols and radar surveillance, as well as ineffective co-ordination between agencies e.g. port police, customs, navies, etc.

5) Since an increasing proportion of piracy is actually within countries’ territorial waters and so is under the jurisdiction of states, what might the maximum extent of intervention to reduce this piracy be?

Agreements on hot pursuit between security forces is an obvious need, but unlikely for reasons already mentioned. More effective memoranda of understanding between neighbouring countries to cover cooperative law enforcement in areas where maritime boundaries have not been agreed are also important. Basically regional countries need to be less sensitive to ships and aircraft of another country entering their waters.

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