(Updates throughout, adds comments)
By Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah and Keith Wallis
KUALA LUMPUR/SINGAPORE, April 23 Armed pirates
raided an oil tanker off the coast of Malaysia and took three
crew members with them, Malaysian maritime officials said on
Wednesday, underscoring increasing threats to shipping in one of
the world's busiest waterways.
The incident in the Malacca Strait, a route for about a
quarter of the world's seaborne oil trade, has fuelled fears
piracy could be on the rise in the area and drive up ship
"We are very concerned," said Noel Choong, head of the
International Maritime Bureau's Malaysia-based Piracy Reporting
Centre, who added the ship was hijacked while sailing near the
Malaysia town of Port Klang.
"It's the first time this has happened so far north in the
Malacca Strait, and the first time they have kidnapped the crew.
It's not an area where we have seen the modus operandi of ships
hijacked for their cargo," he told Reuters.
Eight Indonesian pirates in a fishing vessel boarded the
Naniwa Maru No.1 at 1 a.m. local time on Tuesday off the coast
of west Malaysia, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency
The pirates pumped out about 3 million litres of the 4.5
million litres of diesel carried by the tanker into two waiting
vessels and made off with three Indonesian crew members,
including the captain and chief engineer, the agency said.
"There is a possibility that the abducted crew was involved
in the hijack based on new leads and that their personal
documents, clothes and belongings were taken along with then,"
the agency said in a statement.
The Saint Kitts and Nevis reigstered oil tanker, which was
bound for Myanmar from Singapore, had been towed to Malaysia's
Port Klang for further investigations.
Malaysian authorities are now working closely with their
Indonesian counterparts to track down the two vessels and locate
the missing crew.
Regional security officials have previously told Reuters
that armed gangs prowling the Malacca Strait may be part of a
syndicate that can either have links to the crew on board the
hijacking target or inside knowledge about the ship and cargo.
Such intelligence-led hijacks have involved seizing tankers
so that gasoil cargoes can be transferred and sold on the black
market, the officials, who declined to be identified because
they are not authorised to speak to the media, have said.
The stolen cargo is worth about $2.5 million, based on the
average price of diesel this year in Singapore, data from
British shipping services firm Clarkson shows.
The tanker is managed by Singapore company Pantec Chartering
which was unable to comment when contacted by Reuters. The
4,999-deadweight tonne vessel had a 18 member crew of
Indonesian, Thai, Myanmar and Indian nationals.
Insurance sources said the incident was unlikely to spark an
immediate increase in premiums, but insurers would be concerned
if there were several more hijackings.
Previous tanker hijackings and cargo thefts have taken place
closer to Singapore, with five such incidents between 2011 and
2013, according to the government-to-government body Regional
Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery
against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).
There were eight armed robbery attacks in the Malacca Strait
and around Singapore in the first quarter this year, compared
with one in the same period last year, Singapore-headquartered
ReCAAP said, although most were small thefts.
(Reporting by Al Zaquan Amer Hamzah; Writing by Niluksi
Koswanage; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Ron Popeski)