KUALA LUMPUR - The hijackers of oil tanker MT Orkim Harmony have reportedly changed course to the east heading for Indonesia's Natuna Island in an attempt to escape.
Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) commander of marine region 1, Rear Admiral Datuk Azhari Abdul Rashid, said the hijackers want authorities to provide a boat when they reach the island, Bernama news agency reported.
A Malaysian navy vessel, KD Terengganu, is continuing negotiations to get the hijackers to surrender, said the report.
"The talks are still ongoing. On arrival at Natuna Island, they (hijackers) request for a boat for them to escape. The Royal Malaysian Navy is still following the tanker.
"The tanker is expected to reach the island on Saturday morning,'' the commander was quoted as saying. The Malaysian navy has informed Indonesia's maritime authorities, he said.
A total of 16 vessels and four aircraft with 1,200 officers and men are involved in the search and rescue operation, according to the report.
There are at least eight hijackers armed with pistols and parang and holding 22 crew members captive - 16 Malaysians, five Indonesians and a Myanmar national.
The tanker - owned by Magna Meridian Sdn Bhd and carrying 6,000 tonnes of petrol worth RM21 million (S$7.6 million) - had been reported missing since June 11 while on its way from Malacca to Kuantan Port in Pahang.
Authorities confirmed that MT Orkim Harmony has been repainted and renamed 'Kim Harmon'.
Agence France-Presse on Thursday quoted the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) as saying that both the crew and the cargo are safe, and the navy is negotiating with the hijackers through the captain of the ship.
"From our experience, as long as there's no situation that alarms the criminals, the crew will be safe," said Vice-Admiral Ahmad Puzi, deputy director-general of the operations unit of MMEA.
"We are using a soft approach first, trying to advise them to surrender," he said, adding that the mood of the negotiations is "good".