KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia is hunting for a group of machete-wielding pirates who hijacked a tanker off its eastern coast, stealing a million litres of oil, in the latest in a spate of attacks in its waters, an official said on Thursday.
Pirates hijacked the Malaysia-registered tanker MT Budi Mesra Dua last Saturday off Bintulu in the oil-rich Sarawak state as the ship sailed from neighbouring Singapore.
"Ten machete-wielding pirates boarded the ship, which was carrying about a million litres of diesel. They took control of the tanker for about 10 hours," Mr Mohamad Sufi Mohamad Ramli, a local commander with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency told AFP.
The armed pirates siphoned off the diesel fuel to another ship, robbed the crew of their valuables and destroyed communication equipment before escaping, he said. "We have activated 24-hour sea patrols around Bintulu waters (in the South China Sea) to prevent similar attacks. We are hunting down the pirates."
Pirates have attacked a number of vessels in waters off Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia recently.
In April, pirates injured the captain and stole diesel fuel from a Thailand-owned tanker off the eastern coast of Malaysia.
In the same month, three Indonesian crew were kidnapped and diesel fuel stolen from a Singapore-managed tanker in the Strait of Malacca, an important shipping lane.
The International Maritime Bureau's Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Centre urged maritime agencies in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia to bolster security measures to stop the piracy menace.
"In recent weeks, we have recorded five hijackings (including this latest incident), in the South China Sea area and in the Malacca Strait," the centre's head Noel Choong told AFP.
"In four of the cases, pirates stole the diesel and gas oil cargo," he added.
The Strait of Malacca is a key maritime highway linking Europe and the Middle East to Asia, and has long been a hunting ground for pirates.
Attacks in the strait had dropped in recent years following stepped-up patrols and cooperation between neighbouring countries to secure waterways.