January 28, 2005

Hijacked tug and barge recovered

Acting upon information provided by ICC's International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the ship owners, Mineral Energy, Malaysian authorities located and boarded the hijacked Indonesian tug "Christian" and the barge "Flora" on January 8, 2005.

IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan said: "Confidential intelligence from the IMB Piracy Reporting Center resulted in the recovery of the hijacked tug and barge at Tawau in East Malaysia. As part of this operation, the Royal Malaysian Police have detained three pirates and another individual has been taken into custody. Unfortunately, at this time all nine crew members are still missing."

The tug was towing the barge from the Philippines to Kota Baru, Banjarmasin in Indonesia. The last communication the owners had with the tug was on 14 December 2004 when the tug was in position lat. 05:34 north and long. 119:22 east.

The Royal Malaysian Marine Police discovered the two vessels, operating under the false identities "Hita" and "FL2" and flying the Belize flag. At the time of seizure, the vessels were at a local shipyard where staff had been instructed to change the names of the vessels by altering the lettering of their original names.

A report in today's Straits Times says that the members of the missing nine-man crew from Indonesia are "believed to be alive and staying at various locations in the vicinity of Tawau, Sabah."

The Straits Times report quotes a spokesman for the owner as saying the vessels are now back in Indonesia and have been fitted with security gadgets, including a tracking system.

The head of the Piracy Reporting Center, Captain Noel Choong, suggests a syndicate could be behind the seizure of the vessels which can be used on inland waterways to transport illegal logging products.

Most of last year's 23 hijacks of tugs and barges took place off the Aceh coast, hit hard by last month's tsunami. Since the disater, the numbers of hijacks off the Aceh coast and along the Malacca Strait have plunged to zero, Choong told the newspaper.

"It may be due to the strong naval presence in the area or that pirates and their vessels may also have perished in the disaster," he is quoted as saying.

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