Officials warn of terror threat to oil tankers in Malacca Strait, countries step up patrols

By Alex Kennedy, AP
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tankers warned of terror threat in Malacca Strait

SINGAPORE — Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have stepped up maritime and air patrols in the Malacca Strait after receiving a warning that a terrorist group was planning attacks on oil tankers in the waters, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The navies of the three countries are working together to increase monitoring, and “we are prepared to handle this threat,” Malaysia’s navy chief. Adm. Abdul Aziz Jaafar told The Associated Press in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

The International Maritime Bureau, a maritime watchdog, said it has urged ships in the region to keep a “strict watch.”

“We are aware of this terrorist threat affecting Malacca Strait and Singapore,” Noel Choong, who heads the IMB’s anti-piracy center in Kuala Lumpur. He said the IMB received the warning from a foreign government agency two days ago, and passed it on to authorities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. He declined to give further details.

The Singapore navy issued an advisory Wednesday warning of terrorist attacks against oil tankers in the waters but did not specify which group was suspected.

The Malacca Strait is the favorite route of oil shippers between the Persian Gulf and Asian Pacific markets. The strait, just 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) at its narrowest point, was the second-busiest shipping lane of crude in 2006, with 15 million barrels a day passing through, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

Singapore lies at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, along the strait, and is home to the world’s busiest port.

Until about a year ago, the strait was infested with pirates that hijacked ships. But joint operations by security forces of countries around the waterway has all but ended such attacks there.

Abdul Aziz, the navy chief, also said the terrorist warning came two days ago from a credible intelligence source, but declined to give details.

“The terrorists are targeting specific tankers in the Malacca Strait and Singapore Strait. We have beefed up patrols to ensure safety and getting the shipping industry to keep us informed of their whereabouts,” he said.

He said the warning didn’t say which terrorist group was planning the attack or what kind of attack was feared.

The Singapore navy’s advisory said that a terrorist group was planning attacks on oil tankers and may also target other vessels in the shipping lane off Malaysia’s east coast.

“The terrorists’ intent is probably to achieve widespread publicity and showcase that it remains a viable group,” said the advisory from the navy’s Information Fusion Centre. “However, this information does not preclude possible attacks on other large vessels with dangerous cargo.”

Indonesia has not received any information from Singapore about possible attacks but plans to boost air and sea patrols, Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. I Wayan Midio said.

“We are committed to increase the awareness and security in the Malacca Strait to anticipate any terrorist attacks,” he said.

The U.S. 7th fleet, whose area of responsibility includes the western Pacific and is based in Yokosuka, Japan, did not respond to calls for comment.

Indonesian police on Thursday charged 14 suspected Islamist militants with planning terrorist attacks after they were captured in raids since Feb. 22 on Sumatra island, which forms the eastern boundary of the Malacca Strait. Their alleged targets weren’t disclosed.

Police are investigating if militants are linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, one of the most active terror networks in Southeast Asia. Police have blamed the group for suicide bombings of the J.W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta in July 2009 that killed seven people and bombings on the island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people.

The Singapore navy said small fishing boats or speedboats were used in past successful terrorist attacks against ships, and these kinds of vessels could be used in the Malacca Strait.

The navy recommended ships add lookouts and lighting, avoid fishing areas and maintain a good speed.

Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this story.

will not be displayed