High seas theft looking more like an inside job: Malaysia

A Police Coast Guard vessel patrols the shipping lanes near freight ships off the coast of Singapore.

PETALING JAYA - With still no hint of a ransom demand for the missing crewmen, the high seas theft on the Naniwa Maru 1 is looking more like an inside job, said Deputy Home Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

"There were no distress signals activated by the crew members and the ship's three top officers were also taken along with their belongings and personal documents," he said when contacted yesterday.

On Tuesday, pirates allegedly fled with RM8 million (S$3 million) worth of diesel from the tanker in what was initially reported to be a hijacking incident.

Authorities suspect that the oil tanker's captain, chief officer and chief engineer may have been in cahoots with the pirates.

Dr Wan Junaidi said the Malacca Straits was relatively safe and well guarded given joint patrols between Malaysian authorities and their counterparts from neighbouring countries, thus such a theft was "surprising".

"It would take about five hours to siphon diesel from the vessel.

"Authorities could have come to their aid promptly if any crew member had activated the distress signal," he said.

The Indonesian Embassy's counsellor for consular affairs Dino Nurwahyudin confirmed that no ransom demand had been made for the trio supposedly "taken" by the pirates.

"They have only worked with the company for six months. Their records will be scrutinised," he said.

The three top officers - all Indonesians - were missing when the pirates fled after stealing three million litres of diesel from the tanker.

Their passports, personal belongings and clothing were also missing from their rooms.

The Indonesian pirates tied up 18 crew members as they siphoned diesel from the Singapore-owned vessel at about 1am on Tuesday.