A Malaysian naval vessel on Thursday located a hijacked tanker in Vietnamese waters and is negotiating with the pirates, Malaysian officials said Thursday. The oil tanker was reportedly hijacked earlier in June while transporting gasoline from one Malaysian port to another.
Malaysian officials said that both the crew and cargo of the Orkim Harmony were safe, and that the country's navy is currently locked in negotiations with the pirates, assuring them that they will not be harmed if they surrender. The oil tanker, operated by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, was hijacked on June 11 while carrying about 50,000 barrels of gasoline.
The Orkim Harmony -- which weighs 7,300 tons when empty -- was detected in Cambodian waters earlier Thursday, having been repainted and renamed, Reuters reported.
Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar, chief of Malaysia's navy, said on Twitter that at least eight perpetrators were on board the vessel, and were armed with pistols and machetes, and that they spoke with Indonesian accents.
Petronas told Reuters that the Orkim Harmony was carrying 6,000 metric tons of products from the Malacca refinery at the port of Tanjung Sedili to the Malaysian port of Kuantan for distribution.
This is the second such incident in the region in a month. Earlier in June, oil tanker Orkim Victory, which was carrying diesel from Petronas was hijacked in the same area while traveling the same route. Malaysian official Seri Shahidan Kassim told the Star Online on Tuesday that the area is a “hotspot” for piracy.
"The area is in Malaysian waters, bordering Singapore and Indonesia,” he reportedly said. "We don't know if the crew on the missing ship has been kidnapped. We have not received any ransom calls or communication.
"We are still searching for the vessel," he added.
Vice Admiral Ahmad Puzi, deputy director general of the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency’s operations unit, reportedly said on Monday that pirates would have a tough time siphoning gas off of the Orkim Harmony because it was highly flammable, and added that they were likely looking for facilities in which they could do a ship-to-ship transfer.