Vietnam's marine cops quizzing suspected hijackers

HANOI: Vietnam's marine police are questioning eight foreigners suspected of being the escaped pirates who commandeered a Malaysian-flagged tanker in the South China Sea for a week.

The unarmed men docked at Tho Chu Island, off southwest Vietnam, on a lifeboat on Friday morning after "saying they encountered an accident at sea", said Major-General Ngo Ngoc Thu, deputy commander of the Vietnam Marine Police.

Malaysian authorities have been searching for eight men after they escaped the MT Orkim Harmony in a lifeboat on Friday.

It was the latest vessel to be targeted by pirates behind an upsurge of sea hijackings in South-East Asia in the past two years, typically targeting smaller tankers carrying valuable petrol, diesel or gas.

Yesterday, Maj-Gen Thu said Vietnam was tipped off by Malaysian authorities about the eight "suspects", whose nationalities have not been determined and had been sent to a Vietnamese island off Phu Quoc for questioning.

"If they are the hijackers Malaysia is looking for, we will follow the laws, relations between the two countries and international practice to handle the situation," he said.

MT Orkim Harmony, carrying around 6,000 tonnes of petrol worth RM21mil, went missing on June 11 en-route from Malacca to Kuantan Port in Pahang.

The pirates had managed to slip away by ordering naval vessels to stay at least five nautical miles from the ship or the crew would be harmed.

The London-based International Maritime Bureau has repeatedly warned that South-East Asian waters are now the world's most piracy-prone, calling for decisive action by regional authorities to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.

Meanwhile, in Bagan Datoh, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Malaysia will request for the extradition of the eight suspected hijackers of MT Orkim Harmony for prosecution in the country.

He said the extradition request would be submitted to Vietnam and Indonesia by Tuesday.