The Straits Times (Singapore) TERRORISTS may be targeting ships and busy ports next, a London-based defence consultancy has warned. Suicide bombers might attack ships, or terrorists may hijack vessels to crash into oil tankers near ports, according to a recent report by Aegis Defence Services.
It says that militants in South-east Asia have abducted shipping crew members to learn how to pilot ships.
Other possible targets are United States navy vessels.
Hambali, a leading Al-Qaeda detainee, has told his interrogators that his fellow militants had been considering ramming bomb-laden speedboats into US warships docked in Philippine waters, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, citing American security sources.
And Singapore’s Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, during his visit to India earlier this week, highlighted the need for stepped-up maritime security efforts in a speech on Monday.
He said it was known that terrorists had been studying maritime targets across the region, and the challenge of securing ships and ports against attacks was ‘enormous’.
A report by World Net Daily, citing intelligence sources, said that Al-Qaeda is believed to have acquired 15 vessels for seaborne attacks.
They had left their home ports in the Horn of Africa and some were headed for Asia, it said.
Aegis’ head of research and intelligence Dominic Armstrong said: ‘South-east Asia is vulnerable.’
His company specialises in risk assessment.
‘Given the sympathy for the militants in the region, it is likely that there could be an incident or two,’ he said.
The company believes that an attack on March 26 this year on the chemical tanker Dewi Madrim, off the coast of Sumatra, was a bid to learn to steer a ship.
Ten pirates boarded the ship from a speedboat. Armed with machine guns and machetes, they took the helm and steered the vessel, altering speed for about an hour.
They left with the captain and the first officer.
Both men are still missing and no ransom has been sought. Aegis believes the kidnapping was aimed at acquiring the expertise to mount a maritime attack.
It points to other troubling signs: Abu Sayyaf rebels demanding lessons from a kidnapped diving instructor, and reports from the owner of a diving school in Kuala Lumpur, who was approached by a group of men who wanted to learn about underwater manoeuvres.
The strange thing about them, he said, was that they were uninterested in learning the vital skill of decompression when resurfacing.
There have also been about 10 cases of pirates stealing tugboats for no obvious reason.
The tugboats could be used to tow a hijacked tanker into a busy international port, such as Singapore.
The Aegis report speculates that the Malacca Strait, one of the busiest shipping lanes, might be a target.
A spokesman for the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau said there is no evidence of an imminent sea attack.
But he added: ‘We cannot discount the possibility that militants could be planning to hijack ships and use them for some criminal activity.’
Mr Armstrong warned that the ramifications of an attack in South-east Asia would be significant.
‘Simultaneous strikes could affect the trade route here and cause a massive disruption of the delivery of critical oil to the Asian economies and that of goods from Asia to the Middle East and Europe.
‘It could even lead to a reassessment of China as the secure manufacturing capital of the world.’