A Vietnamese crewman was shot dead when an unidentified group of pirates hijacked an asphalt tanker off Singapore’s coast early Sunday, authorities said.
Tran Duc Dat was airlifted by a Singaporean rescue helicopter at around 9:40 am on Sunday after being shot in the forehead and unconscious, the Vietnam Marine Search and Rescue Center said on the same day.
Dat was rushed to the nearest hospital but was pronounced dead soon as the head injury was too critical, the center said.
Fifteen other crew members on the VP ASPHALT 2 ship of the Vietnam Petroleum Transport JSC, based in the northern port city of Hai Phong, are safe, it said.
The vessel was reportedly approached by pirates at 4:30 am on Sunday as it was roughly 60 nautical miles (111 kilometers) off Singapore’s coast. It was carrying 2,300 tons of liquid asphalt from Singapore to the Go Dau port in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai.
The pirates reportedly tied the crew members and took away their belongings.
No other crew members were injured and the tanker returned to Singapore, Bloomberg quoted Vu Thi Mai, administration head of VP Petrochemical Transport Co., as saying Monday in a statement. Company director Dang Minh Thao is traveling to Singapore, Mai said.
The incident is under investigation, Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of the Vietnam Coast Guard, told Bloomberg. The nationalities of the pirates are unknown, he said.
In early October, crew members on board a Vietnamese oil tanker also said the ship had been pirated when it was around 120 nautical miles (222 kilometers) north-east of Singapore.
The Sunrise 689 vessel, loaded with 5,200 tons of diesel, was taken over by pirates shortly after it left Singapore for Vietnam on Oct. 2, according to the captain's accounts.
It was released a week later after the pirates siphoned off some of the gas oil into their vessels.
"It appears groups or syndicates are targeting gas-oil,” Noel Choong, head of the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying.
"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,” he said.
Ship hijackings in the region are on the rise, with at least 10 such attacks this year, Bloomberg said Monday, citing the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center. The killing of the crew member was the first hijacking-related death in Southeast Asia in recent years, the bureau said.
The region includes the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s “most strategic choke points,” Bloomberg said, quoting the US Energy Information Administration.