Following a lengthy pursuit which saw them tracked by elements of the Royal Australian Air Force as well as naval units from Malaysia, the pirates behind the hijacking of the MT Orkim Harmony and its crew of 22 on June 11th have finally been caught. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing…
ReCAAP reports that on June 17th, the Vietnam Coast Guard (VCG) informed them that they had been notified by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) that an Australian maritime patrol aircraft had located the Orkim Harmony around 84nm south west of Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Thailand. It was suspected that the ship was waiting to rendezvous with another tanker which could siphon off the cargo of 95 RON ULG the tanker was carrying.
Although labelled “amateurs” by Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar, the pirates had taken the time to pain over the ship’s name, changing it to “Kim Harmon” as well as obscuring the IMO number; tactics regularly employed by pirates in the region to evade detection.
VCG deployed two patrol ships to the area to search for the vessel, and the MMEA and Royal Malaysian Navy did the same. A tense stand off followed, with the hijackers ordering naval assets to maintain a 5nm distance, using the threat of violence against the crew to ensure compliance. At approximately 2000 LT and unknown to the watching naval vessels, the hijackers fled the ship using a life boat, warning the Master to keep quiet which media reports state he did for five hours.
On the afternoon of June 19th, the VCG informed ReCAAP that they had arrested eight Indonesians who were suspected of being the pirates involved in the hijacking. The VCG also seized the life boat, believed to be from the Orkim Harmony. The suspects claim to be fishermen whose vessel sank and the investigation is continuing. According to reports, the ship is now heading to Kuantan with one crewman suffering from a gunshot wound to the thigh.