Intelligence sharing between Singapore and Indonesia has led to the arrest of seven men who have been targeting shipping in the Singapore Strait.

The Republic of Singapore Navy’s Information Fusion Centre (IFC) said it “facilitated actionable information” that led to the capture of the robbers by the Indonesian authorities.

The IFC said it received information on 3 November 2022 that the perpetrators had boarded a tug and barge transiting along the eastbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme in the Singapore Strait to steal scrap metal.

The Indonesia international liaison officer (ILO) at the IFC immediately relayed the information to his colleagues at the Indonesian navy’s operation centre.

The Indonesian Navy then worked with Indonesian Marine Police who deployed their vessels to respond and investigate.

“Upon seeing the enforcement vessels, the perpetrators attempted to flee however seven of them were arrested and were subsequently brought back for further investigation by the local authorities,” the IFC said.

“The success of this operation is due to the timely reporting from the ship, prompt info-sharing of actionable information by the IFC and Indonesia ILO with the Indonesian authorities, which cued fast operational responses.”

The IFC says there has been 44 boardings and one attempted boarding of commercial vessels in the Singapore Strait in the year to date.

Over half of the ships targeted have been bulkers, while a further quarter were tugs and barges. Tankers make up the remaining targets.

Based on the incident reports this year, in most cases, the perpetrators avoided confrontation, and fled immediately upon being sighted by crew, the IFC said.

Perpetrators are usually unarmed, and in groups of four to six people, and they use small boats to target slow-moving vessels with low freeboard.

The IFC said it had observed a recent uptick in incidents in Phillip Channel, with eight theft, robbery and piracy at sea (TRAPS) incidents reported so far this year against just three incidents in the whole of 2021.

“Based on past observations and trending, IFC anticipates opportunistic boarding of vessels in Phillip Channel to continue in the upcoming months leading up to the festive period particularly in November and December,” it said.

“All the incidents occurred in hours of darkness, and there were no confrontations and injuries reported in all of the incidents. In 50% of the incidents, some engine parts and equipment were reported stolen.”