Planes take to the skies in search of oil tanker

PHOTO: Photo: The Star/ANN

PETALING JAYA - The search for missing oil tanker MT Orkim Harmony has been stepped up with more assets added to the 13 vessels involved in the mission.

Maritime Vice-Admiral Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar said five aircraft - two from MMEA, two from the Royal Malaysian Air Force and one from the Royal Malaysian Navy - joined the effort yesterday.

"This is on top of 13 search vessels that have been mobilised since Day One.

"We are also widening our search area to include the Malacca Strait as well as Sabah and Sarawak waters," the Malaysian Maritime Enforce­ment Agency deputy director-general told The Star yesterday.

The search team was also checking satellite images, he added.

"At this point, we are sure that the ship did not capsize.

"If it did, an automatic sensor on the ship would have alerted the authorities," he said.

Admiral Ahmad Puzi said the tanker, which was carrying 5,879 tonnes of RON95 fuel belonging to Petronas worth RM21mil, could be at sea for about 20 days before it runs out of fuel.

"It is frustrating that there is still not a trace of the tanker.

"However, we are not giving up. We will search for the tanker until it is found and rescue the crew," he said.

Asked whether the ship's 22-member crew had been taken hostage, Admiral Ahmad Puzi said no ransom demand had been made as of yesterday.

"We are not concluding it is a hijack yet. We are cooperating with agencies from neighbouring countries in searching for the tanker," he said.

The tanker left Malacca on Wednesday and was to arrive at Kuantan port 10.30am the next day, but communication was lost at about 8.57pm. The MMEA was notified at about 6.30am on Saturday that it was missing.

The ship's last known location was 30 nautical miles off Tanjung Sedili.

In Kundasang, Home Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said "insiders" could have been a factor in the tanker's disappearance.

He said those who were well versed with the vessel and its movements might have provided information to individuals who had caused its disappearance.

In Putrajaya, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Hasan Malek said there would be no petrol shortage in east coast states.

He said the missing fuel was for next week's supply for Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.

"We met with Petronas Dagang on Monday and it said a new consignment would be sent," he said after chairing an annual consultation with cooperatives yesterday.