View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Piracy and Shipping Choke Points

Dana Dillon and Lucia Selvaggi write in today's Wall Street Journal (registration required) about the threat to international shipping posed both by piracy and terrorism at one of the world's most congested shipping lanes, the Strait of Malacca shared among Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. They describe the magnitude of the threat thus:

Despite the fact that 50,000 ships and half the world's crude oil travel through the straits each year, efforts to protect the vessels have proven sporadic and ineffective. Attacks in the straits -- which narrow to 1.5 miles wide at some points -- account for more than half the piracy in the world. And experts with the International Chamber of Commerce, which tracks piracy, expect more than 400 such attacks world-wide this year, which means at least 200 in the straits.


With so many ships carrying fuel through the straits -- experts estimate 10 very large crude carriers pass through the straits every day, not to mention two-thirds of the world's liquefied natural gas -- the consequences could be devastating. For instance, a suicide run into Singapore by a ship loaded with LNG would be "more devastating than any bomb" and "too horrible to think about," said an official with the International Tanker Operators Association.

Indonesia has been in the same sort of denial that preceded the Bali bombing, and only Japan seems to be taking the threat very seriously. Since the attacks are predominantly coming from Indonesian shores, they have primary responsibility for stopping them on land. Historically, this sort of problem has only been solved by the presence of a significant naval presence. If we don't want, say, China to use this as an excuse to expand its blue-water navy, at our eventual expense, we're going to have to take up the slack.

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