Friday, March 04, 2005

Pirates Attack Malaysian Vessel

Gun-wielding pirates attacked a Malaysian tugboat and kidnapped its captain and chief officer in the first incident of piracy reported in the Malacca Strait this year, maritime authorities said on Wednesday. The vessel's chief engineer was shot in the leg in Monday's attack, said Noel Choong, regional manager of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur. "This is the first case since the tsunami," said Choong, referring to the wave of devastation that struck Indian Ocean coastlines on Dec. 26 last year. "We had hoped that it had wiped out the pirates' assets like boats and guns, but they are surfacing again." The Malacca Strait is one of the world's busiest sea lanes, carrying more than a quarter of global trade and almost all of Japan and China's crucial oil imports. The attackers fired machine guns under cover of night to force the vessel, the "High Line 26", to stop. They boarded it in Malaysian waters 50 nautical miles southwest of the northern island of Penang, Choong said. The ship, with a crew of nine, was towing a barge with a cargo of coal on its way to Lumut, in the northern Malaysian state of Perak. A Malaysian Navy vessel picked up the crew and took them to hospital, Choong added. The captain is Malaysian and the chief officer Indonesian, Choong said. "The modus operandi is similar to that of previous attacks off the coast of Sumatra or north of Aceh," he added. "We believe the same gang of pirates have begun their attacks again. We have urged boats to stay closer to the Malaysian coastline." Despite joint military patrols to deter crime and boost security in the Malacca Strait, the narrow channel between Malaysia and Indonesia ranked second-worst in the world last year in terms of incidence of piracy and armed robbery. Pirate attacks are endemic to the region and could go on indefinitely, an analyst told Reporters. "It is true the attacks diminished, but that had less to do with the tsunami than the presence of military forces all over," said maritime policy expert Mark Valencia, who is based in Hawaii. "I think they were biding their time until things had died down. With the American military due to move out of the region this month, they have died down to some degree and they're back in action," he added. There were 37 pirate attacks in the Malacca Strait in 2004, up from 28 the previous year, the IMB said in a report, with 36 seamen kidnapped, four killed and three injured.

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