KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian naval vessel has made contact with the pirates onboard hijacked tanker Orkim Harmony and is trying to persuade them to surrender, a maritime official said on Thursday.
The tanker as of noon (0000 ET) was in Vietnamese waters headed south with the Malaysian navy vessel KD Terengganu and a maritime ship in pursuit.
Both the crew and the cargo onboard the tanker are safe, and the navy is negotiating with the robbers through the captain of the Orkim Harmony, said Vice Admiral Ahmad Puzi, deputy director general of the operations unit of the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), in a press briefing.
“From our experience, as long as there’s no situation that alarms the criminals, the crew will be safe,” Ahmad Puzi said.
“We are using a soft approach first, trying to advise them to surrender,” he said, adding that the mood of the negotiations is “good”.
The 7,300 deadweight tonne (DWT) Orkim Harmony was hijacked on June 11 about 30 nautical miles from the Johor port of Tanjung Sedili carrying around 50,000 barrels of RON95 gasoline, in the second such incident in the same area this month.
The Orkim Harmony is operated by Malaysia’s Orkim Ship Management. On board is a crew of 22, including 16 Malaysians, five Indonesians and one Myanmar national.
After the tanker was hijacked, the pirates repainted the ship and changed the name to Kim Harmon.
Malaysia’s Chief of Navy Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar said on his Twitter account that at least eight perpetrators were on board the Orkim Harmony armed with pistols and machetes.
Malaysian state oil firm Petronas [PETR.UL] told Reuters that the Orkim Harmony was carrying 6,000 metric tonnes of product from its Malacca refinery to the port of Kuantan on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia for distribution.
It said “all necessary measures are being taken to ensure undisrupted fuel supply to consumers in the East Coast region.”
Earlier this month, a 7,100 DWT oil tanker, Orkim Victory, carrying diesel loaded from Petronas was hijacked on June 4 in the same area and on the same route.
The Orkim Victory was later released by the hijackers after about 770 metric tonnes (6,000 barrels) of its cargo had been siphoned off.
It will, however, be difficult for the pirates to siphon off the gasoline from the Harmony as it is highly flammable and they are likely looking for proper facilities to do a ship-to-ship transfer, Ahmad Puzi had told reporters on Monday.
The two hijackings have raised further concerns over piracy in Southeast Asia, maritime officials said on Monday.
Reporting by Anuradha Raghu; Editing by Tom Hogue