HANOI, Vietnam — Eight Indonesians apprehended last week have confessed to hijacking a Malaysian oil tanker, a Vietnamese official said Monday.
Col. Doan Bao Quyet, political commissar of Vietnam Coast Guard Region 4 in the southern province of Kien Giang, said the Indonesians, aged 19 to 61, initially said they encountered an accident at sea while fishing when they arrived on Tho Chu island off Vietnam’s southern coast on Friday. But after questioning with the images and information provided by Malaysian authorities, they confessed that they were responsible for hijacking the oil tanker earlier this month.
The tanker MT Orkim Harmony was carrying 7.5 million litres (2 million gallons) of gasoline worth 21 million ringgit ($5.7 million) on its way to Kuantan in Malaysia when communications were lost with it on June 11.
Quyet said the group of 13 Indonesian pirates armed with pistols and machetes took control of the tanker, and eight remained on the tanker while five used their boat to return to Indonesia to possibly look for potential buyers of the gasoline.
The tanker was spotted Thursday and it had been repainted black from blue.
The pirates abandoned the tanker on Friday night and fled to Tho Chu island on a life raft. The tanker has sailed to a port in Malaysia.
Quyet said the men were found with dozens of mobile phones and a large amount of US dollars and Malaysian Ringgit.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency has said the hijacking was believed to be the work of a syndicate targeting vessels for their cargos of fuel, and was the fifth such theft 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.
The International Maritime Bureau says attacks against small tankers off Southeast Asia’s coasts have been rising since last year.