ARX Mouldings is sharing IFC observations where a spike in the number of sea robbery and sea theft incidents in Manilla South Harbor Anchorage, Philippines, between April and August 2021. The 10 incidents recorded consist of six sea thefts and four sea robberies. Of note, the perpetrators involved in the latest four incidents were armed with weapons (gun or knife) and demonstrated a significant degree of violence against the crew. There has been an observed increase in incidents within the Quarantine Anchorage in Manila this year, of which 80% targeted container vessels at night, with an increase in the confrontation between the perpetrators and crew than previously observed. This Spot Commentary aims to provide awareness on this area of concern, including analytical insights into the incidents and the perpetrators observed modus operandi.
2. Area of Concern. All incidents occurred within the Manilla South Harbor Quarantine Anchorage (See Diagram 1), involving anchored vessels with low freeboards (up to 6-7 meters) being boarded at night, of which six occurred during periods with no or minimal moonlight illumination (See Diagram 2). Most of the incidents (70%) occurred between 2300Hrs to 0500Hrs. No incidents were recorded between 0500Hrs to 1900Hrs, as shown in Diagram 3. Of note, half of the incidents took place on Wednesdays, and there were also no multiple incidents taking place on the same night. The incidents involved between one to eight perpetrators, with half of the reported incidents (50%) involving three or more perpetrators; it is possible that more perpetrators were involved but were not detected or reported.
A total of eight container vessels (80%), one tug and barge (10%), and one dredger (10%) were involved in the ten incidents reported (See Diagram 4). This is assessed to be generally consistent with two factors, (1) vessel types that constitute a larger percentage of the overall traffic volume (i.e. numerically more in absolute numbers) plying their trade in the area, and (2) vessels with lower freeboards (below 10 meters).
Vessels with low freeboard were targeted during periods of darkness and were typically boarded by three or more perpetrators. In some cases, perpetrators were reportedly armed with knives or firearms. Of note, during the recent four cases, perpetrators were observed to be more confrontational compared to previous incidents. In most cases, the perpetrators were discovered around the forecastle and have been observed to target ship stores. Due to the prolonged nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the quarantine anchorage would likely remain a preferred hotspot for the foreseeable future, enticing potential perpetrators to remain within the vicinity in search of target vessels. The nature of the incidents assessed to be opportunistic rather than organised crime; nonetheless, based on the trending of incidents recorded it is likely that the same group of perpetrators continue their criminal efforts using similar MO in the future.
Efforts by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). The Philippine authorities, in particular the Coast Guard Station in the vicinity of Manila Bay, have increased surveillance efforts and patrol routines in their respective areas to deter potential perpetrators and respond to the increasing incidents. The PCG has advised shipmasters to stand up additional duty watches and encouraged the installation of CCTVs. Vessels have also been reminded to make timely reports if any incidents occur.
IFC will continue to (1) info-share the incident details with regional OPCENs as soon as practicable, and (2) engage the shipping community on the importance of maintaining a proper and vigilant lookout, adhering to ship security standard operating procedures, and timely reporting of incidents to local authorities, especially when transiting the Manilla Anchorage Area. Of note, all ships’ masters should be reminded to report to the local authorities and inform the IFC immediately when suspicious activities (including suspicious small boats approaching) are sighted, and not to confront the perpetrators as they may resort to violence if they are hindered in their robbery activities. The contact details of local authorities are shown in Table 1.
Masters and operators are also encouraged to participate in the IFC’s Voluntary Community Reporting (VCR) initiative to receive timely information from the IFC on reports of incidents in the IFC’s Area of Interest (AOI).