Malaysian navy in contact with pirates aboard hijacked tanker Orkim Harmony

KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian naval vessel has located the hijacked tanker Orkim Harmony in Vietnamese waters and is trying to persuade the pirates onboard to surrender, promising them they will be unharmed, Malaysian maritime officials said on Thursday.

Both the crew and the cargo are safe, and the navy is in the midst of negotiations with the robbers, officials with the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said in a press briefing in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia's Chief of Navy Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar said on his Twitter account that at least eight perpetrators were on board the Orkim Harmony armed with pistols and machetes.

Local media reported earlier that the Orkim Harmony had been detected in Cambodian waters.

The 7,300 deadweight tonne (DWT) Orkim Harmony was hijacked on June 11 about 30 nautical miles from the Johor port of Tanjung Sedili carrying around 50,000 barrels of RON95 gasoline, in the second such incident in the same area this month.

The two hijackings within two weeks have raised further concerns over piracy in Southeast Asia, maritime officials said on Monday.

Malaysian state oil firm Petronas told Reuters that the Harmony was carrying 6,000 metric tonnes of product from its Malacca refinery to Kuantan on Peninsular Malaysia's east coast for distribution.

It said "all necessary measures are being taken to ensure undisrupted fuel supply to consumers in the East Coast region." Earlier this month, the 7,100 DWT oil tanker Orkim Victory carrying diesel loaded from Petronas was hijacked on June 4 in the same area and on the same route.

The Orkim Harmony is operated by Malaysia's Orkim Ship Management. On board is a crew of 22, including 16 Malaysians, five Indonesians and one Myanmar national.

Vice Admiral Ahmad Puzi, the maritime enforcement agency's deputy director general of the operations unit, told reporters on Monday that it would be difficult for the pirates to siphon off the gasoline from the Harmony as it was highly flammable and that they were likely looking for the proper facilities to do a ship-to-ship transfer.