The Malaysian coast guard has apprehended 10 pirates who seized an oil tanker carrying $1.7 million in diesel, in the fourth attack by pirates in Malaysian water this year so far.
The Thai-flagged tanker disappeared from tracking systems yesterday afternoon, and was discovered early Thursday morning, at which time Malaysian maritime forces flew commando units in by helicopter to rescue the ship, according to media reports.
Ten of the Indonesia pirates were reportedly arrested on board the oil tanker, while three hijackers managed to flee on a small boat that has continued to elude the Malaysian coast guard.
No one was wounded in the operation. The Thai-flagged ship has a crew of 14 Thai citizens.
In mid-August, another mysterious case involving a missing Malaysian oil tanker that was later found near the Indonesian island of Batam remained unsolved. Initially, authorities believed that the oil tanker, which was transporting about 900,000 liters of diesel, had been hijacked. However, reports later emerged that it fell off the radar over a “misunderstanding” between the crew and operator.
While overall, the number of pirate attacks in the South China Sea has been dropping in recent years, there is growing concern that piracy on the high seas could attract ISIS.
Pirate attacks targeting vessels in Asia are said to have fallen 24 percent year on year from January to July, but the passage between Malaysia and the Philippines is considered a new danger zone.
Asia’s most dangerous waterway is now believed to be the Sibutu Passage between Malaysia and the Philippines, with Islamic terrorist groups threatening maritime trade. Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have launched joint patrols in the passage as a response to this rising threat.
Hellenic Shipping news reports three such incidents from June to August this year, and while they were smaller in scale and less organized, there is growing concern that a new modus operandi is being developed.
According to reports citing the Indonesian Defense Department, 1,200 “ISIS-inspired” militants are operating in the Philippines, and could move to other ASEAN countries via sea connections in under 24 hours.
By Damir Kaletovic for Oilprice.com
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Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.