Saturday, May 31, 2014

Piracy News as Ill Fated Tanker Vanishes Whilst Previous Incident of Cargo Theft Explored

Singapore Straits Proving the New Hot Spot for Hijacks
Shipping News Feature

ANGOLA – GHANA – NIGERIA – INDONESIA – Two major pieces of piracy related news this week as the Liberian Registry (LISCR) has now concluded its investigation into the hijacking of the product tanker Kerala off Luanda, Angola, on January 18, earlier this year, whilst the Thai registered product tanker, Orapin 4 has gone missing, presumed hijacked, in a similar incident to that of the Kerala but this time taking place off the coast of Indonesia. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has confirmed the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and it seems that, once again a ship may have been seized with the intention of stealing her cargo of oil.

On May 28, the Orapin 4 was on her way to Pontianak, Indonesia from Singapore, via the Singapore Strait, laden with 3,377 tonnes of automotive diesel fuel when the vessel’s owners, Thai International Tankers tried to contact the ship via email but did not receive a reply. The last known position of the product tanker was approximately 3.64 nautical miles north of Pulau Batam, Indonesia (01° 14.68’ N, 104° 03.10’ E) on 27 May at 1730 hours.

The Orapin 4 is no stranger to mishap, as our picture shows, after she ran aground in Songkhla, Thailand in January and was finally refloated using the rather crude method shown, in March. If the vessel has indeed been taken, it seems another in a series of at least ten armed attacks in the region in the first few months of 2014, in April another oil tanker, the Naniwa Maru No 1, was stopped near the foot of the Malacca Strait by raiders off Port Klang, Malaysia and 2,500 tonnes siphoned from her tanks into the pirates two ships, before they left taking three crew as hostages. The region it seems has now become a major hotspot for this type of crime once again despite stepped up and coordinated patrols by naval authorities from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Liberian Administration is currently in the process of publishing its report into the hijacking of the Liberian-flagged Kerala. Liberia requested the attendance of the INTERPOL Incident Response Team in Tema, Ghana, the port of refuge to which the Kerala was directed after the pirates released the vessel. This team, supported and helped by the Ghanaian authorities, undertook an investigation of the crime scene on board the vessel.

A representative of the Liberian Flag Administration also attended on board in Tema to observe the collection of forensic evidence by the authorities, and interviewed some crew members. All parties were given full access to the vessel's documents, officers and crew. Upon arrival at Tema, all crew members received immediate medical treatment and have since been repatriated.

Following the hijacking off Angola, the vessel proceeded to Nigeria where the pirates, believed to be Nigerian nationals, offloaded the cargo. During the hijacking, the fourth engineer was stabbed by the pirates, and other crew members were beaten. The investigation report described the ordeal of the fourth engineer based on his account of the circumstances of the hijacking incident. It also revealed that, during the hijacking, the pirates disabled the Kerala’s AIS and other communication equipment so that the vessel could not be tracked from shore or satellite.

During this period, the pirates painted over the identifying features of the vessel, including the funnel, the name (Eral instead of Kerala) and the IMO number. The pirates also undertook three separate ship-to-ship transfers of cargo amounting to the theft of approximately 12,271 tonnes of cargo.

According to the findings, the owners/operators of the Kerala, Agrocooperative of Athens, Greece, re-established contact with the vessel on 26 January 2014, shortly after the pirates had disembarked. The vessel immediately set a course for Tema, where a team of Angolan Navy personnel subsequently boarded the Kerala and ultimately directed it back to Angola.

The vessel was cleared for discharge at Port Luanda on 19 February, 2014, but since then, a team of Angolan police have prevented anyone from boarding or leaving without permission from the force’s superiors. The Kerala has not been allowed to depart Angola, even though it has completed cargo discharge operations.

Liberia actively participated at the Joint Co-ordination Meeting of interested parties of the Kerala hijacking incident at INTERPOL Headquarters in Lyon in April 2014. It remains committed to fighting armed robbery and piracy, a crime against humanity, in all its forms, wherever it may occur in the world.

Following publication of the investigation, the Government of Liberia says it will continue working with authorities in the Gulf of Guinea region and other legitimate organisations in order to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.

Photo: The Orapin 4 being literally shoved off the Thai sand by an assortment of earthmovers!