Asia Minute: The Pandemic and Piracy

Jan 18, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has affected everything from life expectancy in the United States to economies around the world. It's even had a surprising impact on a particular activity in Southeast Asia: piracy.


Piracy and armed robberies in the Singapore Strait hit their highest level in five years in 2020. And the group that tracks those crimes is saying that COVID-19 has played a role in that development.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia says those maritime crimes spiked especially sharply near the Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan.

The group’s executive director says the pandemic influences at least two areas.

The Straits Times quotes Masafumi Kuroki as saying “The economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to the coastal communities could lead to more people resorting to sea robberies.”

Kuroki says the coronavirus may also affect the attention levels of crews — with long work hours and fewer crew changes leading to reduced vigilance.

Maritime crimes were also up in waters around Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Vietnam — as well as in the South China Sea.

Overall, those crimes were up nearly 20% from a year earlier.

While law enforcement and security officials count both piracy and armed robberies together, there is a difference between the two crimes. Piracy refers to attacks in international waters — while armed robberies are within the territorial waters of a particular country.