KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian navy ship is pursuing an oil tanker hijacked a week ago and trying to persuade armed pirates, believed to be Indonesians, to surrender, officials said Thursday.
Navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said the naval ship is communicating with the captain, and all 22 crew members are safe.
He said at least eight pirates onboard the MT Orkim Harmony are armed with pistols and machetes and speak with Indonesian accents.
The tanker, carrying 7.5 million liters (2 million gallons) of gasoline worth 21 million ringgit ($5.7 million), was headed to northern Kuantan when communications were lost June 11. The crew consists of 16 Malaysians, five Indonesians and a Myanmar national.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said the ship was detected in waters off southern Vietnam late Wednesday. Officials said it had been repainted black from blue. Abdul Aziz tweeted pictures of the tanker, showing some letters of the name of the ship painted over to give it a new name, "Kim Harmon."
The maritime agency said the hijacking was believed to be the work of a syndicate targeting vessels for their fuel cargo. It said this was the fifth theft at sea in waters off southern Malaysia this year.
It was the second tanker hijacked this month. Another Malaysian tanker carrying diesel fuel was hijacked June 4 in the same area and was released after its fuel was siphoned off.
Maritime officials have said it is more difficult to steal gasoline because it is highly flammable and requires special safety equipment.
The International Maritime Bureau says attacks against small tankers off Southeast Asia's coasts have been rising since last year.
Pirates have been particularly active near Indonesia's Bintan island and in the South China Sea, where 11 vessels were hijacked last year, the bureau said.