Hijacked tanker in Malaysia; Vietnam grills eight suspects

MT Orkim Harmony, which was hijacked last week, arriving in Kuantan Port yesterday with 21 crew members. Another crew member, a cook, was taken to hospital earlier to be treated for a gunshot wound in the thigh.
MT Orkim Harmony, which was hijacked last week, arriving in Kuantan Port yesterday with 21 crew members. Another crew member, a cook, was taken to hospital earlier to be treated for a gunshot wound in the thigh.PHOTO: EPA

Kuantan - The oil tanker MT Orkim Harmony arrived at Kuantan Port yesterday morning, more than a week after it was hijacked by pirates off the Malaysian coast, as Vietnam's marine police said they were questioning eight foreigners suspected of being the escaped pirates.

The Malaysian-flagged tanker arrived with 21 crew members at 7.50am and berthed at the Petronas Pier, according to a spokesman for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

The vessel, laden with 6,000 tonnes of RON95 petrol worth RM21 million (S$7.5 million), was scheduled to arrive at 2am, but was delayed due to a faulty engine, reported Bernama news agency.

The tanker lost communications with base on June 11 in Johor en route to Kuantan. It was detected the following day, repainted and renamed "Kim Harmon".

All the 22 crew members on board the tanker were rescued on Friday following negotiations between the Royal Malaysian Navy and the hijackers. However, a cook had a gunshot wound in the thigh and was flown by helicopter to hospital for treatment.

Malaysian authorities have been searching for eight men since last Friday, when they fled the tanker in a lifeboat. They had managed to slip away by ordering naval vessels to stay at least five nautical miles from the ship or the crew would be harmed.

Major-General Ngo Ngoc Thu, deputy commander of the Vietnam Marine Police, said the eight men being questioned docked at Tho Chu island, off south-west Vietnam, in a lifeboat on Friday after "saying they encountered an accident at sea".

He told AFP that Vietnam was tipped off by Malaysian authorities about the suspects and that the men had been sent to the larger Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc for questioning. The men's nationalities have not yet been determined but they reportedly spoke with an Indonesian accent.

"If they are the hijackers Malaysia is looking for, we will follow the laws, relations between the two countries and international practice to handle the situation," Maj-Gen Thu said.

MT Orkim Harmony was the latest vessel to be targeted by pirates behind an upsurge of sea hijackings in South-east Asia in the past two years.

The London-based International Maritime Bureau has called for decisive action by regional authorities to prevent the situation spiralling out of control.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Hijacked tanker in Malaysia; Vietnam grills eight suspects'. Print Edition | Subscribe