Ship hijack suspects 'speak Bahasa Indonesia'

HANOI - The eight men detained by Vietnam on suspicion of hijacking the Malaysianflagged oil tanker MT Okim Harmony reportedly speak Bahasa Indonesia and were carrying large amounts of cash when they were apprehended, according to Vietnamese state media.

The group was taken into custody on Friday after they pulled up to Vietnam's south-western Tho Chu island in a lifeboat claiming to have encountered an accident at sea.

The same day, Malaysian authorities said eight men who had commandeered the vessel a week earlier had managed to give warships the slip by escaping in a lifeboat under cover of darkness. VnExpress yesterday said the eight men - aged from 19 to 61 - spoke in Bahasa Indonesia and "could not explain the origin of a big volume of foreign currency they were carrying and dozens of phones".

"These suspects were very stubborn, refusing to cooperate," Lieutenant Do Van Toan of Vietnam's Marine Police was quoted as saying. Another marine police official, Colonel Le Van Minh, said investigators "have enough grounds to charge these eight suspects", but the "point is how to make them admit their crimes".

However, The Star, citing the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, reported all eight suspects had confessed to the crime. It said it was closely monitoring the situation.

Indonesia's state news agency said Jakarta had ordered its Hanoi embassy to verify the nationality of the men.

MT Orkim Harmony, carrying around 6,000 tonnes of petrol worth an estimated US$5.6 million (S$7.5 million), went missing on June 11 en route from Malaysia's western coast to the port of Kuantan on the east coast. It was detected near Vietnamese and Cambodian waters on Wednesday, with the ship repainted and renamed "Kim Harmon". All the 22 crew members were rescued.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'Ship hijack suspects 'speak Bahasa Indonesia''. Print Edition | Subscribe