Malaysian maritime authorities claim to have narrowed down the identity of the person who planned the hijacking of locally flagged tanker Orkim Harmony.
Orkim Harmony, carrying 6,000 tonnes of unleaded petrol, went missing on 11 June while en route from Malacca to Kuantan.
On 17 June, the Vietnam Coast Guard informed Singapore-based piracy reporting centre ReCAAP ISC that they had been notified by Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) that an Australian patrol aircraft had localised a vessel at latitude 09°21’N, longitude 102°44’E, approximately 84 n miles southwest of Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Thailand around 14:46 h local time.
The vessel, renamed ‘Kim Harmon’, matched the description of Orkim Harmony.
The vessel’s IMO number was also covered with black paint and its AIS was turned off to avoid detection.
Speaking at a press conference at the MMEA headquarters in Putrajaya on 24 June, Vice-Admiral Ahmad Puzi bin Ab Kahar indicated the gang may have been behind six other hijackings in the area, which is increasingly becoming a hotbed for armed robbers seeking oil products.
The MMEA deputy director general for operations said, “This is not the first case as there have been a few cases previously. We have narrowed down the scope [of suspected masterminds]. It is a jigsaw puzzle we have to fix and we need to firm up our evidence.”
Vice Adm Ahmad added that authorities are still investigating and they hope to find out more from the Orkim Harmony hijackers, whom Malaysia intends to extradite from Vietnam.
He said the robbers had used satellite communication devices during the incident, which facilitated the investigation and the search for the tanker.
“We have been able to extract [valuable] information from this,” said Vice Adm Ahmad.
While Orkim Harmony was held by the robbers, personnel on the Royal Malaysian Navy’s (RMN) patrol vessel, KD Terengganu, negotiated with the robbers and spoke to the captain of the tanker. During the negotiations, the naval officers persuaded the robbers to surrender and that they would not be harmed.
Eight of the robbers then fled on Orkim Harmony’s lifeboat and were arrested by Vietnamese authorities in Tho Chu Island. The tanker was subsequently escorted by RMN vessels to Kuantan.
Vietnamese authorities said that after questioning, the eight suspects revealed that after getting hold of Orkim Harmony’s cargo, five other accomplices brought it to Malaysia to find a buyer.