Piracy may range from attacks on refugees boats from South East Asia, through theft of cargoes, to seizure of ships. The original crew and any passengers, may be allowed to survive or may be killed. Piracy is especially likely in narrow straits and waterways (where larger ships are forced to slow down) in those regions where the coast line offers possibilities of retreat (such as numerous fishing villages) for the fast power boats commonly used. When ships are seized, more sophisticated organization permits new registration documents to be formalized so that the ship can continue to work under a new name (as is done in the case of car thefts). The most severe piratical acts may take one of two forms: an armed group steals a vessel and converts it into a "phantom" ship which sells the cargo in other ports, or members of a small high speed craft board a larger vessel and ransack its belongings.
In the 1980s, the International Maritime Bureau estimated that at least one pirate attack per week was likely in the Strait of Malacca, the key strategic passage between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Following international pressure on Indonesia this activity was reported to have diminished (although a 1991 study shows 200 piracies were reported in the Indonesian territorial waters that year). Piracy continues in different forms throughout the South China Seas, notably along the Chinese coast, and around the Philippines. It has been alleged that actions by naval forces of certain maritime countries have taken the form of piracy, with or without the tacit approval of the governments concerned. Naval patrols, possibly "off-duty", may exceed their authority and exploit their advantage in relation to powerless crews in control of profitable cargoes. In 1992, for example, some 28 incidents, allegedly involving Chinese naval patrol boats, were reported by the Hong Kong authorities. Another 1992 report found that 70 of 84 reported piracies occurred in Far Eastern waters and that 21 ships in the Philippines alone were stolen that year. By 1992, increasing use of fire bombs against tankers in the seas of Southeast Asia raised fears of other maritime disasters, such as large oil spills. One report estimates piracy in Southeast Asia cost the shipping industry $275 million during 1990 and 1991. The International Maritime Bureau says that pirates now break into freight companies' computer systems, change order forms, arrange for changes in shipping, and then intercept the shipment. This is especially a problem in the China Sea and around Indonesia.