In the first nine months of 2011, 352 pirate-related incidents took place across the globe (though it is worth mentioning that an estimated two-thirds of such incidents are slipped under the radar in order to duck the associated insurance raises and bad publicity), with close to 15% of these taking place in the waters of southeastern Asia. During the same period of the next year, only 233 ships were affected by piracy; regardless, the number of attacks recorded in the Asian region rose, now accounting for over 20%.
The International Maritime Bureau director, Pottengal Mukundan, while ‘’welcom[ing] the successful robust targeting of pirate action groups […] in the high-risk waters off Somalia’’, emphasized that ships travelling through the Malacca Straights and the South China Sea should remain particularly vigilant. The 1997 Asian financial crisis, from which some communities have yet to recover, combined with the rugged and unpredictable coastlines, have allowed the waters of the region to become rife with pirates (in 1999, almost three fourths of incidents took place in Asia).
Jakarta, for a number of reasons, has both national and regional incitements to lead the anti-piracy effort.
Executed parallel to regular patrols and escorts, a strategy that ‘’has brought significant results’’ in the Gulf of Aden, encouraging economic growth in Indonesia, a member of the G20, would further reduce the number of altercations on the sea: studies relating mostly to Somali and Nigerian waters highlighted long-term decreases in piracy when local economies were boosted, although also noted higher rates preceding elections as unscrupulous candidates sought to fill their campaign chests. Given the new Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, is the first businessman to head his country, hopes are high that he will be able to reproduce the economic revitalization of his mayoral district at the national level.
Such an involvement, especially in ‘’the world’s most pirate-infested waters’’, is certain to increase Indonesia’s standing in the region, in which tensions periodically surge due to territorial disputes between China and various members of ASEAN, whose headquarters are in Jakarta. While solidifying its position as mediator for the aforementioned disagreements, flexing its naval might in a crackdown on piracy may avert a showdown with Beijing—similar to the symbolic 1996 naval exercise organised by Indonesia, which was perceived to have deterred Chinese attempts to hijack Western development of natural gas production—, whose ten-dash line map may or may not include the Indonesia island of Natuna Besar. Given the Indonesian navy proudly proclaims itself to be a green-water navy, disassociating itself from the blue-water navies which ‘’tended to be aggressors’’, an impressive response to the pirates roaming national waters may be the most powerful, yet plausibly deniable, statement of strength Indonesia can make.
Perhaps a more important question is why other nations would not take up this mantle; after all, the pirates between Yemen and Somalia are largely warded off by forces from NATO, CTF151, and EU Navfor. Somalia, however, has no functioning navy, contrary to the southeastern Asian states that refuse such foreign navies and armed guards.
Even if this were not the case, the competing interests of China, India and the United States make it unlikely any would succeed in gaining control of the operation. The crucial role the Malacca Straights play in the global shipping sphere, and the conflicting interests of the nations in question—China’s pseudo-Monroe Doctrine; India’s Look East policy; and the American non-confrontationist attitude and pivot to Asia—all mean political manoeuvring around this issue will be prickly.
Indonesia seems well-placed to fill this void; and perhaps the businessman who is to take office as Indonesia’s president in October will prioritize securing a region through which almost half the world’s trade is shipped.