KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities were Thursday searching for a cargo ship that has been missing for a week and is feared hijacked in the piracy-prone South China Sea, a coast guard official said.
The owners of the Malaysian-registered vessel lost contact with it last Thursday while it travelled along the coast of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, said First Admiral Ismaili Bujang Pit, the state's coast guard chief.
The MV Sah Lian was carrying a mixed cargo including iron products, piping and food from the Sarawak capital Kuching to the town of Limbang, manned by a crew of 14 including Malaysian, Indonesian, Myanmar, and Indian nationals.
"We believe this ship has been hijacked and taken out of Malaysian waters. We believe it could be in Indonesian waters near the Natuna islands," he said.
The Natuna islands are an Indonesian archipelago in the South China Sea between Borneo and mainland Malaysia.
Ismaili said three Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency vessels were searching for the ship. The agency also has reached out to Thailand and Vietnam for assistance.
The London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says Southeast Asian waters are now the world's most piracy-prone, had has called for decisive action by regional authorities to prevent the situation spiralling out of control.
The missing Malaysian vessel, however, does not fit the usual profile of ships targeted in a spate of piracy attacks in recent years.
These normally have involved small coastal tankers whose valuable fuel or oil cargo is siphoned off before the ships and crews are released.
In June, a Malaysian tanker was hijacked in the South China Sea, with the pirates eluding authorities for days.
A week after the hijacking, eight suspected Indonesian pirates were arrested on a Vietnamese island after apparently fleeing the tanker in a lifeboat.
The case is being investigated by Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities.