February 1, 2006

Malacca Strait attack would rock world economies

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A maritime terrorist attack in the
Malacca Strait could send economic shockwaves around the world
even it was not a major strike, the commander of the U.S.
Pacific Fleet said on Wednesday.

Admiral Gary Roughead said the risk of a terrorist attack
in the strait shared by Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and
Singapore, one of the world's busiest sea routes, continued to
rise along with the increase in global shipping and continued

"The Strait of Malacca is the heaviest trafficked strait in
the world, and for that reason any disruption to that commerce,
not only would it affect the region, I would suggest it would
have global implications," Roughead told Reuters in an

"I am not sure it would have to be of great magnitude. The
fact that a vulnerability has been demonstrated is enough to
affect trade," Roughead, head of United State's biggest naval
fleet, said on the sidelines of a major naval conference in

The narrow, strategic Malacca Strait is a 500-mile waterway
linking Asia with the Middle East and Europe and carries some
50,000 vessels a year.

It also carries some 40 percent of the world's trade,
including 80 percent of Japan's and South Korea's oil and gas
and 80 percent of China's oil, according to a U.S.-Indonesia
Society 2005 study on the impact of a terrorism attack in the
strait. The London insurance market in 2005 classed the Malacca
Strait a "war risk" zone -- adding the sea lane to a list of 21
areas such as Iraq and Colombo that it deemed high risk and
vulnerable to war, strikes and terrorism.

Roughead said piracy -- a major problem for ships using the
Malacca Strait, along with drug and human traffickers on the
high seas -- could be used by terror groups to launch an

"The terrorist movements and their network can use those
same criminal lanes that others use," he said. "I think
activity on the ocean is increasing and terrorism is a part of

Indonesian waters pose the world's great piracy risk,
accounting for almost 30 percent of reported attacks in 2005,
said The International Maritime Bureau, an ocean crime

Global piracy fell in the past year, from 329 attacks in
2004 to 276 in 2005, with Indonesian attacks down from 94 to 79
and attacks in the Malacca Strait falling from 38 to 12.

The bureau acknowledged anti-piracy operations by
Indonesia, which saw gangs of pirates captured in 2005, for the

Roughead said there was still a need for greater
cooperation among navies to combat maritime terrorism, citing
operations already under way in the region.

The four Southeast Asian nations guarding the Malacca
Strait began joint air patrols over the sea lane in September
2005 to combat piracy and terrorist threats.

But the weak link in maritime security was a lack of
information on ships and cargoes, said Roughead, who called for

global information sharing similar to the aviation

"You can look at an airplane flying in the world today and
in almost every instance you know where it came from, who's on
it, where it is going, what cargo it has, what time it left and
what time it arrives," he said.

"The immediate need that I see is the ability to build that
maritime domain awareness. To share that information so we can
look at the maritime picture and determine those ships that are
of no concern and focus on ships we are more concerned about."

The Pacific Fleet is the U.S. navy's largest fleet covering
the Pacific, Indian and Arctic Oceans, with some 200 ships,
2,000 aircraft and more than 239,000 sailors.

Roughead, who became commander of the Pacific fleet in
December 2005, said the "war on terror" was changing the shape
of the world's navies, forcing them to become more streamlined
and capable of rapid, inshore deployment.

"In the U.S. Navy, we have become much more flexible and
much more unpredictable in our deployment patterns," Roughead

"I believe navies of the future will be much more agile. I
believe they will be more lethal, pound for pound," he said.

"But navies of the future will have to operate against a
wider range of threats than what we have been used to dealing
with in the past -- from the transnational criminal and
terrorism all the way up to the high end of combat."