PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - The list of suspected masterminds behind the hijacking of Malaysian oil tanker MT Orkim Harmony has been narrowed down, said Maritime Vice-Admiral Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar.
Authorities now believe that the same mastermind may be responsible for six other hijackings in Malaysian waters this year.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) deputy director-general (operations) said they had an idea of who could be the mastermind behind the hijacking of the oil tanker on June 11.
"The is not the first case as there have been a few cases previously. We have narrowed down the scope (of suspected masterminds). It is a jigsaw puzzle we have to fix. We need to firm up our evidence to implicate those involved," he told reporters at the MMEA headquarters here.
Ahmad Puzi also did not rule out the possibility that the mastermind was behind six other hijacking cases in Malaysian waters this year.
He added, however, that there was not enough to link the incidents, and that they hoped to get a clearer picture based on evidence they expect to extract from the eight MT Orkim Harmony hijackers who have since been detained by Vietnamese authorities.
He said the suspects were shortlisted from intelligence gathering following the recent recovery of the ship and the arrests of the eight men in Vietnamese waters.
Ahmad Puzi said the perpetrators had used satellite communication devices during the incident which gave away leads to investigators.
He said the hijackers had maintained constant contact with some suspects, of whom one is believed to be the mastermind.
"We have been able to extract (valuable) information from this," he added.
Ahmad Puzi added that they were currently negotiating with Vietnam through the Foreign Ministry to extradite the eight suspects although he did not say how long the process would take.
The tanker, owned by Magna Meridian Sdn Bhd and carrying 6,000 tonnes of petrol worth RM21mil belonging to Petronas, went missing on June 11 en route from Malacca to Kuantan Port.
The vessel was then reported to be adrift in Cambodian waters and was being diverted to the east towards Natuna Island, Indonesia.
Authorities then confirmed that the MT Orkim Harmony had been repainted and renamed "Kim Harmon" by the pirates.
Eight suspects, all Indonesian nationals, were then arrested in Vietnamese waters near Tho Chu Island after they reportedly fled the tanker on a rescue boat last Thursday.
News of their escape only came to light the next day when the tanker's captain contacted the KD Terengganu.
Apparently, he did not alert the Navy immediately as the hijackers had threatened to harm his family.
All crew members arrived safely in Kuantan on Saturday.