Pirates Thwarted By Naval Forces

Wednesday, June 27, 2001
A complex anti-piracy operation involving the resources of three nations ended on Wednesday as Indonesian naval forces stormed the Singaporean tanker Selayang to arrest a pirate gang that hijacked the vessel last week. "The high seas chase ended at 15:20 (local) on Wednesday when Indonesian naval and air units closed in on the ship," said a statement from the London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which had been tracking the ship from its Kuala Lumpur control center.

It had been chartered by oil-major Shell to carry a 3,500 tons gas oil cargo and was hijacked on June 19, shortly after it left Shell's Port Dickson refinery bound for Labuan, Malaysia. "The Navy boarded the tanker from the sea, but we won't know any more about the operation until it is brought into port and the crew are questioned," IMB director Captain Mukundan said. A source at Singapore-based Petrojaya Marine, which managed the Selayang, said he had only just been informed of the recapture and was unsure of the status of the 14 Indonesian crew.

Other sources in the operation said the Indonesian navy had put out a message saying: "crew safe", but it was still unclear as to whether this referred to the original crew or to a replacement crew that might have been put on board by the pirates. Indonesia is the world's worst piracy black-spot, accounting for about a third of the 68 pirate attacks reported globally in the first three months of this year, according to IMB figures. Petroleum product tankers have proved to be a key target with their valuable cargoes of diesel and gasoline, which can easily be sold on the black market. Mukundan said the tanker, which was now carrying false identification, was being towed into the Kalimantan port of Balik Papan.

The IMB's satellite tracking system, Shiploc, can be installed secretly on ships so that they are easily pin-pointed in the event of a hijack. Mukundan said that the Captain of another tanker, the Tirta Niaga, was currently being held for ransom in Aceh province. Shipping sources said the ransom demand was close to one billion Indonesian rupiah ($87,750).

The tanker left Penang on Sunday with a cargo of palm oil bound for India, but broke down close to the Aceh coastline. The crew was carrying out repairs when they were overwhelmed by armed attackers. The captain and second officer were taken ashore and the officer was later released with the ransom demand. "Our advise to seafarers is that if you have to stop in the Strait of Malacca, then make your way to the Malaysian side first," warned Mukundan. - (Reuters)

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