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Drama on high seas as tri-nation force captures 'pirates' aboard Japanese ship

Drama on high seas as tri-nation force captures 'pirates' aboard Japanese ship

Banking sharply, the Malaysian police helicopter appeared suddenly over the Japanese ship. As a bomb blast spewed smoke across the ship's deck, five commandos slid down a rope from the hovering aircraft.
Screaming "get down! get down!" the black-clad team chased two burly men who appeared to be pirates, overpowering and handcuffing them at gunpoint within minutes.
Watched by journalists and police officers, the commandos and the two grinning pirates were soon posing for TV cameras, and congratulating each other on a job well done _ the first ever anti-piracy exercise involving the forces of Japan, Malaysia and Thailand near the Thai island resort of Phuket.
"It was plain sailing. Everything went smoothly," said Abdul Manaf Othman, an assistant commander in the Malaysian police, whose marine and air wings and special forces commandos took part in the exercise.
Officials hope that exercises such as this will sharpen the skills and increase coordination among marine police of neighboring countries in stamping out piracy in the Strait of Malacca, the world's busiest shipping lane and, until recently, the most pirate infested.
Authorities in some Asian countries have been stepping up anti-piracy cooperation in recent years, also because of concerns over possible terror strikes on ships in the strait through which 65,000 vessels pass every year carrying half the world's oil and more than a third of its commerce.
Japan's interest is obvious. Much of its oil from the Middle East and its exports to Southeast Asian and Arab markets are ferried on tankers and ships that use the Malacca straits.
"Fortunately, around Japan there is no piracy," said Capt. Nobuharu Kagami, the director of Piracy Countermeasures Office in the Japan Coast Guard.
"But the safety of Malacca Straits is very important to Japan. For this reason cooperation with countries (in the region) is very important to us," said Kagami, speaking on board the Japan Coast Guard ship Yashima, which played the part of the hijacked vessel during last month's three-hour exercise.
There were a few glitches _ one of the Thai marine police boats that was to chase the pirates had an engine problem. But a swift exchange of messages allowed a substitute Malaysian speedboat to be dispatched.
"The problems were cleared. No problem. We joined together very well," said Thai police Col. Lerdchai Thinrat, who led his country's team.
Language barriers were minimal because all radio operators aboard the ships and helicopters spoke in English.
"It is true that for the Japanese people, English language is a headache. But we will try to use English more effectively," said Kagami.
Japan has been conducting bilateral exercises with Southeast Asian nations since 2000 as it seeks to raise its non-trade profile in the region. It has provided logistical and technical support to some regional maritime security agencies. And last August, it hosted officials from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand to discuss terrorism at sea.
Increased enforcement and vigilance in the Malacca straits is already yielding fruit: Attacks in the strait have been declining since July 2005, with 11 cases reported last year.
The recent exercise _ which provided all the drama of a Hollywood thriller _ began with two "crew members" of the hijacked ship drifting in a life boat in choppy Thai waters. A Thai Marine Department ship rescued the two men and a search began for the hijacked ship, which had been taken over by five pirates.
Malaysian police boats and the Japanese Coast Guard ship Yashima _ playing the double role as itself and the hijacked ship _ joined the search along with a helicopter from the 130-meter-long (426-foot-long) Yashima.
The action by the Malaysian commandos dropping from the sky provided the climax.


Updated : 2021-10-22 18:16 GMT+08:00