Missing Vietnamese oil tanker believed hijacked

A Vietnamese oil tanker missing for five days may have been hijacked after sailing from Singapore last week, say maritime officials searching for the vessel.

The Sunrise 689 vanished from radar at 1:21 p.m. Vietnam time on Oct. 3, about 20 hours after leaving the city-state, according to Dao Van Quang, chairman and chief executive officer of Hai Phong Sea Product Shipbuilding Co., the registered owner. The vessel, with a crew of 18 and carrying 5,200 metric tons of diesel with an estimated value of $4 million, was scheduled to arrive today in the central province of Quang Tri, he said.

“We strongly suspect she has been hijacked,” John Robin, the duty officer at the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, said by phone. “We don’t know for certain. There could also be a communication breakdown. We know a vessel went missing several days ago.”

The disappearance comes as ship hijackings rise in Southeast Asia, “sparking fears of a new trend in pirate attacks,” according to the bureau. There had been at least six cases of coastal seizing of cargoes since April in the region, the agency said in a statement on July 22. The area includes the Malacca Strait, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration says is one of the world’s “most strategic choke points.”

Vietnam’s maritime police are investigating the incident as a hijacking, according to Quang. The ship deviated from its planned route, and last signals were received as it sailed 115 nautical miles northeast of Singapore.

“If it had an accident, it would have sent us signals,” he said by phone. “They said the last known location of the ship is pretty close to Indonesian islands known as home of hijackers.”

The Sunrise 689 is valued at $125 million and was transporting diesel for a Singapore customer, Quang said. It was built in 2012.

The city-state is Asia’s biggest oil-trading and storage center.

Vietnam has sent a diplomatic note to the embassies of Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia seeking help in the vessel search, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an e- mailed statement.

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