KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Armed pirates raided a Japanese oil tanker off the coast of Malaysia and abducted three crew members, Malaysian maritime police 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 insurance premiums.
Six pirates in a speedboat boarded the Naninwa Maru 1 at 1.00 a.m. local time on Wednesday off the coast of west Malaysia, Maritime Police Commander Abdul Aziz Yusof told Reuters.
The pirates pumped out more than half the 5 million liters of diesel carried by the tanker into two waiting vessels and made off with three crew members, he added. Domestic media said the abducted men were Indonesians.
The Japanese tanker, headed for Myanmar from Singapore, had Indonesian, Thai, Myanmar and Indian crew members.
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 has involved seizing tankers so that gasoil cargoes can be transferred and solid on the black market, the officials, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media, have said.
Attacks by gangs armed with guns and knives on shipping in the Malacca Strait have ranged from 12 to 20 incidents a year over the last three years, says the Singapore headquarters of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).
Most of these incidents have involved the theft of ship's stores, cash and assaults on the crew.
That compares with a peak of 220 recorded attacks in 2000, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau, which tracks pirate activity.
Reporting by Al Zaquan Amer Hamzah; Writing by Niluksi Koswanage; Editing by Clarence Fernandez