UPDATE (June 18th): The latest news from reporting agencies states that MT Arsenal suffered a communications failure and the ship is now classified as safe.
However, earlier today ReCAAP issued an alert regarding the tug Manyplus 12, towing barge Hub 18. The pair were last heard from on June 9th, around 62nm West of Tanjung Datu, Sarawak and were expected at Port Klang on June 13th but failed to arrive. ReCAAP asks that all ships look out for the pair and that the colours and names of the vessels may have been altered, leading to the strong suspicion that they had been hijacked.
While it would be nice to claim a level of prescience regarding piracy in South East Asia, sadly it seems that it’s an ongoing problem for shipping in the region. Particularly tankers. The timing of my report on Asian piracy couldn’t have been better, really.
Shipping has had to endure persistent, low level crime in the region for some time. Boardings at port where ship’s stores are stolen, boardings underway by armed robbers who steal crew possessions and ship’s cash are commonplace. But lately, hijacking for cargo theft has reared its head once again.
Over the weekend, we learned that the MT Ai Maru had been hijacked. Now, if you only read the media reports of this event this week, you could be forgiven for congratulating the region’s naval forces on a job well done. Unfortunately, the majority of media reports published seemed to suggest that the navies had “foiled” or “fought off” an attack.
This is somewhat inaccurate. On June 14th, at around 2030 LT, seven armed pirates in three speed boats boarded the tanker some 37nm off the coast of Malaysia. They tied up the crew and confined them in a room, before siphoning off around 620 metric tonnes of the ship’s cargo, Marine Gas Oil. Before leaving the ship, they stole crew belongings and damaged comms equipment.
With MGO going for a little over $900 per metric tonne, that’s quite a score, so you can see why the headlines suggesting the attack was “foiled” don’t quite strike the right note.
Today (June 17th), we learned that owners have lost contact with the MT Arsenal, (IMO number 7620964) a product tanker, last heard from at 0745 LT this morning.
Owners Global Marine TransportPLOC lost contact with her around 38nm SW of where the Ai Maru was hijacked. While the ship has not been confirmed as hijacked but is simply missing, there are obvious concerns. In particular, the Arsenal was accompanied by a tug, the Pawai, which has also not been heard from. Naturally, the authorities have asked all ships in the region to keep a look out for both vessels. And the MT Arsenal’s cargo? MOGAS.
Some analysts using AIS suggested that in fact the ship was nowhere near this location, but unfortunately, they were basing this on the wrong ship. The MT Arsenal in question is, according to Fleetmon.com, the Mongolian-flagged MT Arsenal, whose last position on June 16th put it off Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia, making 8.1 knots. That’s simply down to using the wrong IMO number to track the vessel, however.
If the ship has been taken by pirates, then it’s clear that there are some very organised criminals working in the region who have solid intelligence on ships, cargoes and routes and are quite prepared to hijack ships close to the coast just days after previous incidents and when regional naval forces would be expected to be on alert.
Additionally, we have also learned today that a tug and barge went missing on June 9th. The Manyplus 12, towing barge Hub 18, left Sarawak for Port Klang and was due to arrive on June 13th. However, neither vessel has been seen or heard from since the owners contacted the Master on June 9th, around 62nm west of Tanjung Datu, Malaysia. The tug has a complement of 11 crew and the barge held 138 containers.
It seems things are getting distinctly warm in South East Asia.