The killing of a crew member of a Vietnamese tanker by pirates marks a deadly escalation in Southeast Asian hijackings and the third attack on a ship from Vietnam in two months.
Crew member Tran Duc Dat was shot yesterday in the forehead after the VP Asphalt 2, owned by VP Petrochemical Transport Co. in Hai Phong, was attacked at 4:30 a.m., the Vietnam Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center said in a statement. The vessel, which had just left Singapore, was carrying 2,300 metric tons of liquid asphalt.
The ship may have been targeted by pirates who thought it was carrying oil products, Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, said by phone. Ship hijackings in the area are on the rise, with at least 12 such attacks this year, he said. The region includes the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s “most strategic choke points,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“It appears groups or syndicates are targeting gas-oil,” he said. “They are making a lot of money off of it. They are getting away with it. As along as there is no deterrent, they will continue to hijack ships.”
Pirates can earn $2 million or more for each hijacked tanker carrying oil products, he said. Interpol is looking into the attacks in Southeast Asian waters with three other deaths globally related to maritime piracy this year, including two near the Philippines, Choong said.
The hijacking of the VP Asphalt 2, en route to Vietnam, occurred 60 nautical miles (111 kilometers) from Singapore waters and in the vicinity where the Vietnamese ship Sunrise 689 was attacked in October, Rear Admiral Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of the Vietnam Coast Guard, said by phone today.
On Dec. 2, a Vietnamese fishing boat was attacked by pirates near the Spratly Islands, Thanh Nien newspaper reported. Thu said the incident is being investigated.
The 16 crew members of the VP Asphalt 2 were tied up as the pirates searched the ship, he said. The hijackers fled with only personal belongings of the crew, Thu said.
As many as seven pirates attacked the vessel, the Straits Times reported. The shot crew member was airlifted to a Singapore hospital where he died, Choong said. Dat, a father of two, was 34, the company said.
The incident is under investigation, Thu said, and the nationalities of the pirates are not known. Singapore’s Defence Ministry said it deployed a Super Puma helicopter to assist the crew.
The tanker returned to Singapore, Vu Thi Mai, administration head of VP Petrochemical Transport Co., said in a statement. Company director Dang Minh Thao is traveling to Singapore, Mai said.
Vietnam Petroleum Transport Co., a unit of Petrolimex, owns a 45 percent stake in VP Petrochemical Transport Co. and Petrolimex Petrochemical Corp., another unit of Petrolimex, holds 44 percent, according to Vietnam Petroleum Transport Co.’s website.