September 16, 2009: There's a place, just east of the Straits of Malacca, that pirates dream of. Nearly 500 merchant ships sit at anchor, each tended by only a few sailors, waiting for the global recession to end. The sailors on these ships are more concerned with pirates. Not so much the Somalis, but ambitious Malays and Indonesian fishermen, who have been attacking passing ships for centuries. Heavy naval and air patrols over the past few years have greatly reduced the local pirate attacks (which usually consist of robbing the crew and carrying away anything portable). But all these ships, sitting off the east coast of Malaysia, are a tempting target. The anchorage is well patrolled, but with so many ships, manned by so few sailors, there is much worry.
Because of the global recession, nearly 15 percent of the worlds 90,000 seagoing merchant ships do not have work. There are many "fleets" of unemployed cargo ships at anchor off remote coasts, all over the world. The one near the Straits of Malacca and Singapore is so large because a third of the worlds merchant shipping passes through those straits each year.
The number of idle ships expected to grow, because shipping rates have fallen up to 90 percent in the past year. Many ships are barely breaking even with full cargoes. Another 10,000 new ships are on order. While some of these can be delayed, if the shipping recession lasts another year, thousands of older ships are going to be broken up for scrap.
The fall in shipping process is a boon to anyone who has to move a lot of stuff long distances. The U.S. Department of Defense will save over a $100 million in shipping charges before the shipping recession ends.