By John Boudreau and Mai Ngoc Chau
Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) — The killing of a crew member of a Vietnamese tanker by pirates yesterday 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 in the forehead after the VP Asphalt 2, owned by VP Petrochemical Transport Co. in Haiphong, was attacked at 4:30 a.m., the Vietnam Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center said in a statement. Dat, a father of two, was 34, the company said. The vessel, which had just left Singapore, was carrying 2,300 metric tons of liquid asphalt, it said.
Ship hijackings in the region are on the rise, with at least 10 such attacks this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur. The region includes the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s “most strategic choke points,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The killing of the crew member was the first hijacking-related death in Southeast Asia in recent years, the bureau said.
Pirates usually target ships believed to be carrying oil, gas or diesel, according to the bureau. The hijacking of the VP Asphalt 2, en route to Vietnam from Singapore, occurred 60 nautical miles from Singapore waters and in the vicinity where the Vietnamese ship Sunrise 689 was hijacked 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 crew member who was shot died in a Singapore hospital, it said.
Singapore’s Defence Ministry deployed a Super Puma helicopter to assist the crew, the ministry said.
No other crew members were injured and 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.
The incident is under investigation, Thu said. The nationalities of the pirates are unknown, he said.
–With assistance from K. Oanh Ha in Hanoi and Andrea Tan in Singapore.
Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.