Vietnam holds tanker hijackers

Vietnam holds tanker hijackers

A picture provided by the Royal Malaysia Navy shows the hijacked tanker MT Orkim Harmony after it was repainted with the name
A picture provided by the Royal Malaysia Navy shows the hijacked tanker MT Orkim Harmony after it was repainted with the name "Kim Harmon" at an undisclosed location. (EPA Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR — Vietnamese authorities have detained eight suspected Indonesian hijackers of a Malaysian oil tanker who abandoned the vessel with its 22 crew and fled after authorities closed in on them by sea and air, officials said on Friday.

Malaysian navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar reported on Twitter that the eight were found on a lifeboat off Vietnam's Tho Chu Island on Friday morning.

"They claimed their fishing boat sank," he said, adding that that authorities were investigating the matter.

Earlier, he said in a statement that the eight suspected hijackers of the MT Orkim Harmony had escaped in a "rescue boat" while trying to steer the tanker toward Indonesia's Natuna islands on Thursday night.

Before they fled, they had warned a Malaysian navy ship shadowing the tanker to stay at least five nautical miles away or they would harm the crew. The tanker's captain, under threat, only notified the navy ship five hours after the hijackers had fled.

The MT Orkim Harmony was en route to Kuantan port in Malaysia's east coast state of Pahang from Malacca in the west coast when communication was lost on June 11, triggering a search that involved Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia.

An Australian air force reconnaissance plane, flying out of its base in Malaysia's northern Penang state, spotted the tanker on Wednesday in the Gulf of Thailand within the Vietnamese maritime border.

It was some 600 nautical miles away from the ship's last known position, which was off the east coast of Malaysia's southern Johor state.

Certain sections of the vessel have been repainted and its name changed to "Kim Harmon".

Abdul Aziz said all 22 crew consisting of 16 Malaysians including the captain, five Indonesians and one Myanmarese, were safe.

One of the Indonesians, however, sustained a gunshot wound on his thigh and has been airlifted to hospital.

The tanker with its cargo of 6,000 tonnes of petrol worth 21 million ringgit (about US$5.7 million) is now on the way to Kuantan port under naval escort.

The global piracy watchdog the International Maritime Bureau has warned about the rise of hijacking in this region.

Small coastal tankers have been hijacked once every two weeks on average in Southeast Asia since April last year, it said in its latest report released last month.

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