Patrols from Malaysia's martime agency police the
Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest waterways
 
Piracy on the Malacca Strait, the waterway between Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, has historically threatened the safe transport of manufactured goods and commodities.

 

The three countries now maintain a strong naval presence in the Strait, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Al Jazeera’s Hamish MacDonald stepped aboard one of the patrol boats.

 

It is late afternoon on the Malacca Strait, but the day has only just begun for the crew of Malaysia's new maritime enforcement agency.

 

These men patrol the busiest shipping lane in Asia, trying to provide safe passage for half of the world's oil and a third of the world’s trade.

 

"We are patrolling day and night, 24 hours patrolling," Siva Kumar Vengadasalam, the patrol's commanding officer, told Al Jazeera.

 

They're looking for pirates, but are just as likely to find smugglers.

 

It only takes them a short while to spot a suspicious vessel on the horizon.

 

The boat is flagged down and its crew is told to stay calm and prepare for inspection. The coastguards board and search the upper deck for drugs, guns or stolen cargo.

 

The men are pushed to the front of the vessel and questioned, and the captain is taken onto the patrol boat and forced to prove his identity.

 

But these men are not pirates, nor are they criminals.

 

More patrols

 

The objective of this coastguard agency is to provide more than just a high profile deterrent to pirates operating in the Malacca Straits.

 

The patrols have the power to stop and
search boats on the Strait
Indonesian waters are just a few nautical miles away and if the pirates make it across that maritime boundary, they are effectively home free.

 

Only recently has that problem been addressed, with Indonesia now patrolling these waters more actively.

 

The result has been that in the first six months of this year there has not been a single reported attack.

 

"The problem is maintaining the effort - if anyone slacks up on that score the piracy could increase," Dzirhan Mahadzir, a defence analyst for Jane's Defence Review, said.

 

The extent of this problem in the past has led insurance brokers Lloyds of London to label the Straits a 'war zone'.

 

Clearly the new agency won't stamp out piracy altogether. But for the countries on either side of the Malacca Straits it is something they will have to aim for.

Source: Al Jazeera