Second small oil tanker goes missing in Malaysia this month

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - A small-sized oil tanker went missing off the south-east coast of Malaysia close to Singapore over the weekend in what could be the second hijacking of such a vessel this month, maritime officials said on Monday.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said the 7,300 deadweight tonne (DWT) Orkim Harmony disappeared about 30 nautical miles from the Johor port of Tanjung Sedili, carrying nearly 7.5 million litres or 48,000 barrels of RON95 gasoline.

The Orkim Harmony is operated by shipping company Orkim Ship Management.

"Orkim Sdn Bhd regretfully confirms the report issued by Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency that the Company has lost contact with its vessel Orkim Harmony early morning 12 June," the ship's operator said in a statement.

The MMEA said there would be an official briefing at 0700 GMT.

"Orkim Harmony was on her laden passage from Melaka to Port of Kuantan, having departed on 10 June 2015 at 0930 hours (local time) and originally expected to arrive at the Port of Kuantan on 12 June 2015 also at 0930 hours," the shipper said.

The vessel's last known position was south-west of Pulau Aur, Mersing in Malaysian waters, Orkim said.

"She was carrying 22 crew members consisting of 16 Malaysians, five Indonesians and one Myanmar national," it added.

Orkim said family members of the crew had been informed and that a 24-hour hotline had been set up to respond to queries.

The shipper said it was working with the search and rescue teams that had been activated to locate the Orkim Harmony.

-Second disappearance -

Earlier this month, the 7,100 DWT oil tanker Orkim Victory, en route to Kuantan from Malacca, was hijacked on June 4 in the same area by a speedboat.

"The perpetrators were armed with two hand guns and one machete ... They threatened the crew (comprising eight Malaysians, seven Indonesians and three Myanmar nationals) and reportedly assaulted them, though no injuries were reported," Singapore-based Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) said in a report.

"The perpetrators subsequently brought Orkim Victory to another location ... and siphoned off 770 metric tonnes (about 6,000 barrels) of automotive diesel oil," it added.

The Orkim Victory has since been released and shipping data on the Thomson Reuters terminal shows it is currently in east Borneo, heading into the port of Sandakan.

Shippers say there has been a rise in such highjackings recently but that due to excess oil capacity and strong insurance competition, shipping rates have been unaffected.