PIRATES armed with knives and guns attacked and stole a Singapore-registered tugboat off Bintan island on Saturday, in a pre-dawn raid.
About 10 men were involved. Such attacks are said to be increasingly common in those Indonesian waters.
All six crewmen on the MV Bina Ocean 2 jumped overboard, but only five made it to shore. The chief officer drowned.
The ship's master was on shore when the pirates struck at about 5am.
The vessel, with barge TK Bina 82 in tow, was moored in the Tanjunguban waters, waiting to be loaded with stones from a Bintan quarry.
Its owners, Marco Polo Shipping company, said it was not carrying any cargo at the time of the attack.
Chew Kok Lip, an executive with the company, said: “The ship was due to be loaded with aggregate stones, which it carries daily to the Pasir Ris quarry terminal.”
The company's general manager is now on Bintan, providing ship and crew details to the Indonesian marine police, who are investigating.
The hijack appears to fit the pattern of recent barge and tug boat thefts in the area, said Noel Choong, spokesman for the Kuala-Lumpur based Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Board.
“There has been a sharp rise in such cases in the last 18 weeks,” he said, adding that the centre would release figures soon in its annual report.
He suspects a syndicate at work and advises ship owners to install log transmitters “to help track a stolen vessel's movements”.
The Bina Ocean 2 does not have such a device which, when concealed on a ship, can be used to track its location from a computer in the owner's office.
“It has the added advantage of enabling the owner to alert the centre which will, in turn, notify the authorities in the region on the whereabouts of the stolen ship,” said Choong.
These small vessels appeal to the hijackers because they can be towed away quickly. “They can also be easily disguised or converted and disposed of,” he added.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is in contact with the ship's owner and is monitoring the situation, a spokesman said. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network
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