Quick action by a Liberian-registered shipmaster managed to save not only US$23million worth of oil from being looted but also the lives of his 25 crewmen after pirates boarded his oil tanker off Malaysia.
The Ukrainian shipmaster, in his early 50s, spotted two pirates making their way into the tanker’s main engine room while another four were on the main deck very early Thursday morning.
Fearing for the safety of his crewmen, the shipmaster contacted officials from the Tanjung Pelepas Port (PTP) who directed the vessel to enter the country’s waters as it was in Indonesian waters during the time of the incident.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Johor Baru enforcement chief Maritime Capt Aminuddin Abd Rashid said two vessels were sent out after receiving the information at about 6.10am Thursday.
“The vessels saw the tanker anchored four nautical miles from PTP at about 8.35am,” he said.
The tanker’s shipmaster pressed the distress button, which startled the six pirates who jumped into the sea and sped off in boats upon seeing the MMEA vessels.
“The tanker was ferrying 90,000 metric tonnes of marine fuel oil worth about US$23million to Tanjung Bin near Pontian,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Aminuddin said 12 MMEA personnel went on board the vessel to conduct checks on its crew lists and forensic tests to determine the sea robbers’ identity.
“The vessel has four Ukrainians including its shipmaster and 22 Filipinos between the ages of 30 and 50 years as crew members.
“We will try to look for fingerprints and crosscheck with our database to find if the pirates were involved in other cases,” he said, adding that a gravelling hook used by the suspects to board the vessel was also found.
He said the pirates were an organised crime team with every member knowing his role well.
Aminuddin said there had been few cases of sea robberies in Malaysian waters due to the heavy presence of MMEA in particular at known hotspots.
He said the agency would continue to work closely with its neighbouring counterparts to clamp down on such activities.