Vietnam-flagged tanker en route from Singapore goes missing, hijack feared

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - A Vietnam-flagged tanker has gone missing en route from Singapore to the Vietnamese port of Quang Tri and is feared hijacked, a world piracy watchdog said on Tuesday, amid growing concern over piracy in Southeast Asian waters.

There has been no contact with the MT Sunrise 689 since shortly after it departed Singapore last Thursday, the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre said in a news alert.

The state-run Vietnam News Agency said the vessel belonged to a shipbuilding company in the northern Vietnam port of Hai Phong and was carrying more than 5,226 tons of oil and 18 crew.

"The fate of the crew and vessel is unknown," the Kuala Lumpur-based piracy watchdog said, urging ships transiting the region to keep a lookout for the missing tanker and report its whereabouts if seen.

Southeast Asia has seen a spate of daring hijackings this year, centred on the Strait of Malacca running between Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

The incidents have fanned fears that the region's busy shipping lanes - plagued by piracy for centuries - could once again become a problem area after an earlier surge in sea banditry was largely suppressed over the past decade by regional navies.

The majority of the recent attacks have involved tankers whose oil or fuel cargoes were siphoned off to other vessels. There have been no reports of deadly violence.

Vietnamese media said authorities there were seeking help from their counterparts in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

In recent years, global concern over piracy has focused on attacks by trigger-happy Somali pirates off East Africa.

An international naval effort has virtually stamped out that threat, but Southeast Asian piracy attacks have crept back up, according to the IMB.

The agency in June called on regional authorities to step up cooperation to prevent a re-emergence of the piracy scourge in the Malacca Strait and adjacent waters - conduit for one-third of global trade flows.

Anti-piracy experts have said an increasing booty of oil and other cargo floating through the seaway appeared to be drawing in new players, possibly underpinned by organised criminal syndicates.