Tankers in the Malacca Strait may face terrorist attacks similar to the 2002 suicide attack on the French tanker Limburg.  Malaysia and Indonesia announced today that they are stepping up security in the Strait of Malacca pursuant to naval advisories in the area.

The Malacca Strait is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.  The  narrow waterway is used by tankers use to carry oil from the Middle East to Japan and China.  The strait is only 1.7 miles wide at its narrowest point, which makes it extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks.  The 900-km long (550 miles) Malacca Strait carries about 40% of the world’s trade with more than 50,000 merchant ships traveling it each year.

Wire services are quoting the Singapore Shipping Association as saying it has received an advisory from the Singapore Navy Information Fusion Center about “an indication that a terrorist group is planning attacks on oil tankers in the Malacca Strait” and that “this does not preclude possible attacks on other large vessels with dangerous cargo.”

Terrorists could possibly use smaller vessels such as dinghies and speedboats to attack oil tankers.

Ships are advised to strengthen onboard security measures, and the Navy recommends that ships add lookouts and lighting, avoid fishing areas and maintain a good speed.

An attack that closed the Strait of Malacca or the Singapore port even temporarily could have a disproportionate impact on global trade.  “Maritime attacks offer terrorists an alternate means of causing mass economic destabilization,” terrorism risk analyst Peter Chalk.

The possible after-effects of a terror attack could include additional raises in already high maritime insurance rates, shipments of vital commodities being severely disrupted, and a very scary idea of an oil supertanker being commandeered and turned into a floating bomb.

Despite the potential dangers and the very obvious terror warnings, maritime employer show no signs of backing down their travel in this area.  A spokeswoman for Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd, the country’s second-biggest shipping firm, said the warning would not cause it to change operations. “I don’t think we would change the route. Basically the area is dangerous, so we have been taking precautions.”

On October 6, 2002, the Limburg (mentioned above) was carrying 397,000 barrels of crude oil from Iran to Malaysia, and was in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen to pick up another load of oil.  While offshore, an explosives-laden dinghy rammed the starboard side of the tanker and detonated.  The vessel caught on fire and approximately 90,000 barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Aden.   One crew member was killed, and 12 other crew members were injured.  The damage to the tanker was around $45 million dollars.

The Malacca Strait has suffered from long-term maritime piracy problems as well.  For more information on maritime piracy, please contact Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers .  We have handled international maritime cases, including cases involving injuries on almost every waterway, for over 45 years.  If you need more information about issues related to maritime terrorism or maritime piracy, email us at [email protected].