Indonesia and Singapore said last week they would allow each other's navies the reciprocal right of "hot pursuit" in the other country's territorial waters when chasing pirates.
Shipping and government officials discussed other anti-piracy measures as well, including the possibility of establishing a regional anti-piracy center. Authorities also issued a warning that pirate activities are heating up in the Philippines.Southeast Asia has the worst record in the world on pirate attacks against commercial shipping. Armed robbers in small, fast vessels attack cargo ships and tankers at night as they slow down to navigate the heavily traveled channels around Singapore.
Singapore's government-monitored newspaper, the Straits Times, reported that Indonesia and Singapore will begin coordinating naval exercises at the end of August. Under the agreement, marine police and naval patrols are required to warn their counterparts and request assistance when a chase is likely to cross over into the other country's territorial waters.
Any arrests would most likely have to be made by the country where the pirates are caught.
The debate also heated up over the need for a regional anti-piracy center.
A non-profit group, the United Kingdom-based International Maritime Bureau, part of the International Chamber of Commerce, announced plans to open such a center Sept. 1 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
But a senior Indonesian official, speaking at a conference last week in Kuala Lumpur, said there was no need for such a center. He termed it ''ineffective" and "wasteful."
"The coastal states in this region are able to handle sea robbery effectively," said Commodore Sutedjo, director of naval operations and training with the Indonesian navy.
Indonesia in effect indicated it wants to handle the problem itself, since most of the attacks recorded have been in Indonesian waters. Still, the problem has been evident for years, and Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore only started proposing patrols and other safeguards after an international uproar ensued.
Indonesia reported last week that it has arrested at least 28 pirates since May and is looking for 60 others. A sprawling country of 13,000 islands and 180 million people, Indonesia has expressed concern that the pirates are hurting its international image.
Eric Ellen, director of the IMB, said the industry response to such a regional anti-piracy center also has been underwhelming, with the shipping industry donating less than a third of the $400,000 needed to start such a center.
Although the IMB has promised to press on with the center, one of its officials conceded late last week that Indonesia's outright opposition might prompt it to rethink its plans. There was also some local concern that the IMB center amounted to outside interference.
Most modern pirate attacks target the ship's safe and crew possessions and leave the cargo alone. The Southeast Asian region, particularly Indonesian waters, has hundreds of small islands that create ideal hiding spots for bandits.
Pirates also have taken advantage of national borders, sometimes attacking in one country's waters and fleeing to its neighbor.
The IMB meanwhile raised the red flag in another direction when it warned that pirates were once again reappearing off the Philippines. Pirate attacks in that area had slowed down.
Mr. Ellen said most of the recent attacks in the Philippines appeared to be made by Hong Kong and Taiwanese criminals who hijacked ships, switched their identities and then used the vessels to rob other ships of their cargo.
In April 1991, a gang hijacked a Philippine-owned oil tanker. It was subsequently converted into a "mother ship for pirates," Mr. Ellen said at last week's conference. The ship, owned by the national petroleum corporation of the Philippines, was recently recovered off Singapore.
According to the IMB, there were at least 52 pirate attacks in Southeast Asian waters reported during the first four months of 1992 compared with 130 for all of 1991, 35 for 1990 and three in 1989.
These numbers should be viewed cautiously, however, because reporting has been inconsistent.
The IMB said pirate gangs were active in and around the Philippines for several years leading up to the spring of 1991. These groups reportedly hijacked cargo worth up to $200 million a year after 1988.
Mr. Ellen said the cargo vessel the Mighty Commander, which was hijacked earlier this year, was subsequently renamed the Jasamas 2, the Gina 3 and the Bona Vista.
Indonesia's chief of the western fleet, Rear Adm. Yusuf Effendi, was quoted as saying there were no members of the navy among the arrested pirates.