In Malaysia, Port Security Still Means Fighting Pirates

Hijacking of Indonesian ship calls into question security of Malaysia's ports


KUALA LUMPUR -- Pirates hijacked an Indonesian ship in the Malacca Strait and held its crew hostage for two days while forcing them to unload the cargo of tin ingots in a Malaysian port instead of its intended destination in Singapore, a maritime official said Tuesday.

"They did a very daring operation and called to question the security we have in our ports," said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Center.

The general cargo vessel had left Muntok port in southern Sumatra for Singapore when pirates, suspected to be Indonesians, fired gun shots at it before boarding Friday.

The crew was ordered to sail to Pasir Gudang in Malaysia's southern Johor State where they docked for two days while the crew were forced to discharge the cargo at the warehouse.

"They were threatened not to raise alarm or else they would be killed," Choong said.

The pirates then took the ship into Indonesian waters before making an escape in a speedboat Monday.

Choong said one of the crew was injured in a scuffle with the pirates who also took some of their cash.

"We are quite baffled by the whole operation. It was daring and yet amateurish. Why go to all the trouble of hijacking the ship and then leave the cargo at the warehouse?" Choong asked.

He also questioned how the ship could dock in the port for two days without authorities knowing about the presence of the pirates or the fact they were able to secure the necessary documents to allow them to store the cargo in the warehouse.

After the crew lodged a police report, the owner found the cargo still in the warehouse in Pasir Gudang.

"Police are investigating. Port security remains a concern to us and we hope the authorities do something about it," Choong said.

The Malacca Strait, a busy sealane with more than 50,000 commercial ships plying it annually, is also a hotbed for pirates.

Last year, the IMB reported 37 attacks in the strait.