KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian cargo vessel hijacked from the Labuan anchorage two weeks ago by a group of armed men, believed to be pirates, was recovered last Friday.
The Mt Arowana United, owned by Vast Alliance Sdn Bhd, was recovered with its eight crew members near Pulau Natuna, Indonesia, minus its cargo of 650,000 litres of marine fuel, worth RM1.2 million (S$480,000).
The crew were also robbed of their belongings and sustained light injuries. The vessel's navigation system was badly vandalised by the hijackers in their attempt to stop it from sailing and authorities from locating it.
Vast Alliance Port Captain Ezekial K. Jr said the vessel had docked on Oct 14 at the Labuan inner anchorage, as it was supposed to bunker another vessel on Oct 19.
Ezekial said the vessel had earlier been summoned by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency for not possessing valid documents to bunker.
"We (Mt Arowana United) had used an agent in Labuan to apply for the permit, but he failed to do so. It was due to that the vessel was forced to dock for several more days," he said adding that the matter was finally resolved on Oct 18.
The vessel, he said was then allowed to transfer oil to another vessel, which was expected to arrive the following day.
"However, the next day, we could not contact the crew," he said.
Ezekial said he got suspicious and flew to Labuan from Port Klang to check on the vessel on Oct 20, only to discover that the vessel had been hijacked and the crew taken hostage.
"We notified the authorities and questioned the port control how was it possible for a vessel to be hijacked at port," he said.
Ezekial said on Oct 24, however, during on-going investigations, a crew member contacted the office and stated that the vessel had been hijacked by 10 or more pirates at the anchorage of Pulau Labuan but the pirates had left.
"The whole crew except the captain, chief engineer and the bosun were locked up in a cabin. The three were instructed to sail the vessel out of the anchorage and head towards Pulau Natuna where the remaining cargo was transferred to another vessel."
He said the crew member used his old Indonesian sim card to call the company headquarters.
He used it to make an emergency call before we instructed them to sail to Singapore. Even though the navigation system had been vandalised, the ship was in good shape to sail," he said.
Ezekial said while in possession of the vessel, the pirates changed its name to Arow. While they were hostages, the crew were only allowed to take their meals one at a time as the the others were locked up in a tiny cabin.
"During the five days, the pirates ransacked every compartment in the vessel and also stole money, clothes, some 40 drums of paint and other valuables," he added.
Ezekial said Mt Arowana United upon reaching Singapore the crew were given food and other rations.
He said the crew was then sent to a police station in Singapore for their statements.
The hijack, theft of cargo and subsequent release of MT Arowana United is not a totally new concept in South East Asia although incidents like this have not been seen in this area for a number of years. MT Scorpio was hijacked in similar circumstances in the Singapore Strait 13 September 2012.
Two tugs towing barges have also been hijacked in the South China Sea off the coast off Sabah and Sarawak in 2012.
All vessels are recommended to maintain strict 24 hour anti-piracy visual and radar watches while in transit and at anchor and actively implement recommended anti-piracy measures.
By Kalbana Perimbanayagm New Straits Times
Map by: DYRAD MARITIME
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