Since Germany is one of the leading countries concerning the international trade via container shipping, one of the strongest export nations and, in the means of energy supply, is highly depending on the international sea trade; and Southeast Asia is a growing pole of the world’s market economy as well as an area of emerging maritime powers within the whole of Asia, has the world’s largest container harbour – Singapore – and contains the most popular and frequently used sea straits, it occurs, that there are growing entanglements and common interests.
What kind of chances lies in this circumstances and how can a stronger growing cooperation be facilitated?
Conditions, geography and other facts
This paper focuses on the theme of piracy, safety and security of shipping in Southeast Asia. Therefore it is necessary to have a closer look on the distinctively maritime region of Southeast Asia.
This surrounding is economically – mostly concerning seaborne trade – very important for regional countries, as well as for concerned countries far abroad, because it provides important routes between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The features of the geography of the Southeast Asian maritime environment are highly difficult, because the area consists of numerous sea lanes, major straits, navel junctions and internationally important ports.
As long as Germany is concerned, the two most important straits are the Straits of Singapore and Malacca (therefore other straits, i.e. Makassar and Sunda will not be described), which are used to trade over one-quarter of all oil carried and more than a quarter of all traded goods annually.
Annually cargo worth over US$350 billion, as well as almost 15 percent of world oil demand (many of the world’s most important oil ports are located in this region, i.e. Dumai and Port Dickson) is shipped through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore; straits which are not more than an around 430nm long rout flanked by Singapore, Indonesia and Peninsular Malaysia. Over 8000 vessels navigate on around 75000 passages annually through bottlenecks like the Phillip Channel, which is close to the top container port in the world – Singapore – not broader than 1,5nm at some points.
Container ports in the region, like Singapore and Port Klang in Malaysia, deal with over 25 percent of the traffic concerning (un-)loading cargo ships worldwide.
Even if the global economic downturn and the recession are taken into account in a very pessimistic manner, still the straits are likely getting busier in the future. Ships remain by far the most energy-efficient and most eco friendly vessel to carry goods and people within the range of transportation means.
Germany’s security interests; maritime security and piracy
As stated before, the most important connection between Germany and Southeast Asia is the maritime trade. Therefore it has to be looked at the problems, which are linked to the maritime area of Southeast Asia and Germany’s trade overseas.
Some areas of the regional countries have a long tradition of piracy in their history. Maritime crime of this kind exists, i.e. in some archipels close to Singapore and the southern Philippines since hundreds of years.
"This sea is contaminated with pirates; to meet them means the death", wrote the Chinese traveller Fa-Hsien about The Malacca Strait, already in the fifth century.
Piracy and sea rading is a part of maritime trade since it occurred. When the British colonialist Sir William Raffles landed in Malaysia in 1819 in the mouth of the Singapore River, he found a village of 150 Malaysians who lived by fishing and piracy.
In the street of Malacca the cargo ships and tankers must steam slowly. The traffic there is very high, numerous sandy areas, reefs, shallow waters and small islands form a dangerous surrounding for the ships and ideal hiding places for pirates. The Southeast Asian pirates more and more often struck since the middle of the nineties.
Of course, in recent years the situation with piracy and connected maritime crimes (i.e. theft, kidnapping to earn a ransom and hijacking) in Southeast Asia got better and better, but by the way this happened there can be drawn some interesting possibilities for increasing cooperation between Germany and Southeast Asian countries.