Attacks 'being planned' in Malacca Strait

SINGAPORE: An unidentified terrorist group is planning attacks against oil tankers in the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the Singapore Navy and a shipping association said today.

The Singapore Shipping Association said it had received an advisory from the Singapore Navy Information Fusion Centre about “an indication that a terrorist group is planning attacks on oil tankers in the Malacca Strait.” It said “this does not preclude possible attacks on other large vessels with dangerous cargo.” “The terrorists’ intent is probably to achieve widespread publicity and showcase that it remains a viable group,” the navy said in its advisory.

It reminded shipping operators that the militants could use smaller vessels such as dinghies and speedboats to attack oil tankers and urged them to take precaution.

Pirates and robbers have also used small fishing vessels to board ships during previous attacks in the Malacca Strait, it said.

Security analysts have said that the Malacca Strait, bordered by Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, is a prime target because more than 30 percent of global trade and half the world’s oil shipments pass through the narrow waterway.

“If the Singapore Navy is providing this information, it should be taken very seriously,” said John Harrison, a maritime security expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

He said that on the threat level scale, an “indication” is lower than a “warning”, but precautions should still be taken. A “warning” refers to a credible threat that an attack is likely to be carried out against a target over a specific time frame, while an “indication” is gathered from a series of suspicious activities in a certain area.

“Certainly, we do know that there has been a long-term concern about terrorism in the Malacca Strait but the threat level remains fairly low,” Harrison told AFP.

“That said, it was very prudent for the Singapore Navy to pass this warning along because it keeps the threat level where it is.” While the navy did not name any group, Harrison said the Southeast Asia-based Jemaah Islamiyah militant group or Al-Qaeda itself could not be ruled out.