IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan said: “Confidential intelligence from the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre resulted in the recovery of the hijacked tug and barge at Tawau in East Malaysia. As part of this operation, the Royal Malaysian Police have detained three pirates and another individual has been taken into custody. Unfortunately, at this time all nine crew members are still missing.”
The tug was towing the barge from the Philippines to Kota Baru, Banjarmasin in Indonesia. The last communication the owners had with the tug was on 14 December 2004 when the tug was in position lat. 05:34 north and long. 119:22 east.
The Royal Malaysian Marine Police discovered the two vessels, operating under the false identities “Hita” and “FL2” and flying the Belize flag. At the time of seizure, the vessels were at a local shipyard where staff had been instructed to change the names of the vessels by altering the lettering of their original names.
Captain Mukundan stated: “We congratulate the Malaysian authorities on the prompt and decisive action taken to recover these stolen vessels. IMB is pleased that the Piracy Reporting Centre could play a key role in their recovery.”
According to statistics recorded by the Piracy Reporting Centre, during 2004 there were 23 incidents involving tugs and barges, including five hijackings by criminal gangs operating in Southeast Asia. In many of these attacks, master and crew were kidnapped and pirates demanded ransom for their release.
First set up in 1992, the Kuala Lumpur based IMB Piracy Reporting Centre is financed by voluntary contributions from shipping and insurance companies. During the past three years, the Piracy Reporting Centre has been called upon to locate ships in 10 serious cases of hijackings. Nine of these ships have been located and returned to their owners.