PUTRAJAYA - The "part-time pirates" who were cornered after hijacking the MT Orkim Harmony tanker tried to escape in the night. But they only chalked up another failure.
At about 8.30pm on Thursday, they freed the crew, got into a motorised life raft and headed for Vietnam, some 175km away from the tanker's location.
They escaped undetected after warning the vessel's captain not to raise the alarm and by demanding that the four Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) ships shadowing the tanker stay at least 9km away.
But at 6.30am yesterday - some 10 hours after leaving the tanker - the pirates were caught, drifting about 148km off the Vietnamese coast, near Tho Chu Island.
They had only travelled some 27km in those hours on the open sea and went straight into the arms of the Vietnamese authorities.
Navy chief Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar confirmed the arrest of the men in Vietnam.
The Attorney-General's Chambers would need to make a request through Wisma Putra to have them extradited to face charges, he said.
He said the RMN ships had to move away from the tanker because the pirates had threatened to harm the crew if they did not.
"So we turned our ships around and while we were doing that, they made their escape. We had not expected that," he said.
The RMN only discovered the vanishing act when the tanker's captain alerted the KD Terengganu patrol ship at about 1am yesterday.
Admiral Abdul Aziz said the captain waited hours before telling because the pirates had threatened to kill his family if he raised the alarm during the escape.
"They had taken down the captain's personal details so he was scared," he said.
The Orkim Harmony, carrying 6,000 tonnes of RON95 fuel, is being escorted to Kuantan port and was expected to arrive at about 2.30am today.
Among the crew of 22, only Indonesian cook Mavit Matin was injured in the incident.
He had been shot in the thigh and was airlifted to a hospital in Kubang Kerian, Kelantan. His injury was described as not serious.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency deputy director-general (operations) Maritime Admiral Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar said the pirates were in big trouble for hijacking the tanker, using weapons and shooting the cook.
He said the Malaysian authorities would throw the book at the men, who face 10 to 15 years in jail and up to five lashes of the rotan each if convicted of piracy.
"That will be their reward for this little activity," he said.
However, Admiral Ahmad Puzi believes that there must be a kingpin directing such hijackings.
"These eight are just foot soldiers. They're runners. There must be a taukeh in the back," he said, using the colloquial term for "boss".
"We will investigate."
He dismissed a suggestion that the pirates had been allowed to leave the tanker because they had pleaded to be let go.
"I will not accept this. Is that what some people think?" he said.