KUALA LUMPUR • A ship with 3,500 tonnes of marine fuel oil that was reported missing in the Malacca Strait off Malaysia on Saturday has been found in Indonesian waters without its cargo, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said.
The 10 crew members of the Singapore-registered tanker MT Joaquim, which had been on its way to Langkawi, Malaysia, from Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia, were released by a group of hijackers at 8.55am yesterday, Reuters cited the agency as saying in a statement.
The tanker had gone off the radar at 9.35pm on Saturday, the New Straits Times newspaper reported.
"A total of 15 ships, nine boats and four aircraft were immediately deployed to the search area at Malacca Strait, including assets from Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia," the agency's deputy director-general (operations), Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar, said.
The ship was later found near Indonesia's Pulau Rupat with its cargo missing, Mr Ahmad Puzi said. He said the oil cargo was worth US$700,000 (S$969,000).
The 10 crew members on board the tanker - nine Indonesians and one Singaporean - were safe. Two of the injured crew members, including Singaporean Lim Puay Huang, 39, were being treated in Malacca for minor injuries.
Mr Ahmad Puzi said a "phantom ship" was believed to be involved in the incident. There was also a possibility that an "insider" was involved as the tanker had been heading north before changing course to a southern direction.
He said that MT Joaquim cannot proceed to the next port for now as some of its machinery is not functioning, the Malaysian Insider reported. "The ship needs to be fixed. Only then will it be towed or ushered to a port in Singapore for further investigation. At the moment the owners are still trying to get clearance from the Indonesian authority to allow it to remain there until the ship is fixed."
He added that this was the first robbery reported since last year in the Malaysian waters of the Malacca Strait, Astro Awani reported.
On June 11, oil tanker MT Orkim Harmony, carrying 6,000 tonnes of petrol worth an estimated US$5.6 million, was hijacked en route to Kuantan Port from Malacca. The ship with 22 crewmen was released before the pirates were caught in Vietnam waters.
South-east Asia saw 38 pirate attacks from January-March, or 70 per cent of the global total of 54, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said in its April report, calling the frequency of regional incidents "an increasing cause for concern".