PUTRAJAYA - The hijacking of MT Orkim Harmony was pulled off by a total of 13 people but only eight have been arrested by the Vietnamese authorities. Five more are still at large and believed to have fled to Indonesia.
Besides the eight who were arrested in Vietnamese waters near Tho Chu Island on Friday, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency deputy director-general (operations) Maritime Vice-Admiral Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar said another five people were on the tugboat that approached tanker.
After the hijacking, the five sailed away in the tugboat, which was found in Batam two days ago by the Indonesian navy.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Admiral Ahmad Puzi said the oldest of the eight detained suspects has been identified as an Indonesian named Ruslan, 61.
He is believed to be the group leader.
Admiral Ahmad Puzi also confirmed that the suspects were found with wads of cash but he could not verify the amount or the currency.
Contrary to earlier reports, he said the hijackers were "professionals" in oil smuggling with the ringleader speaking in English.
"They are knowledgeable in shipping. They are experienced seafarers."
"As soon as they got onto MT Orkim Harmony, they switched off the Automatic Identification System so they could go undetected," he said.
Ruslan, he said, spoke in English when dealing over the phone.
"He could have been speaking with his boss or a potential buyer. But the language he used was English."
Besides recording statements from MT Orkim Harmony crew members, the MMEA had also conducted forensic tests on the ship to gather more information of the suspects.
"Our next step is to identify the mastermind or their big boss, or whatever you want to call the person.
"The suspects were found with many communication devices and we could use them to find out who they have been communicating with," said Admiral Ahmad Puzi.
The MMEA would randomly deploy enforcement officers from a "Special Task and Rescue Team" on Malaysian commercial vessels as a safety measure, he added.
MT Orkim Harmony, which was carrying 6,000 tonnes of petrol worth RM21mil belonging to Petronas, was reported missing on June 11 while on its way to Kuantan Port from Malacca.
The vessel, owned by Magna Meridian Sdn Bhd, was carrying 22 crewmen on board, comprising 16 Malaysians, five Indonesians and a Myanmar national.