Arrests as lost tanker reappears in China

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The Independent Online
AN oil tanker which was believed to have been hijacked by pirates in the South China Sea has reappeared in southern China, amid reports that it was an inside job.

The Singapore agents for the Malaysian-owned Petro Ranger said yesterday that Indonesian pirates boarded the ship and siphoned off most of its cargo of 11,000 tonnes of diesel oil and kerosene worth $1.5m. They denied claims by the Chinese foreign ministry that the pirates were members of the ship's own crew.

The vessel turned up on Friday in the port of Haikou, in China's southernmost Hainan Island, two weeks after leaving Singapore en route to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Apart from unconfirmed sightings, there had been no contact with the ship since 17 April and its agents, Petroships Ltd, assumed that it had been taken by pirates, a notorious problem in the South China Sea.

The Petro Ranger has been been repainted, given the new name Wilpy, and sailed the last part of its journey under a Honduran flag. None of the crew had been hurt.

Hainan police have detained 12 Indonesians on suspicion of hijacking the oil tanker and sailing it into Chinese waters to smuggle its cargo. The 12 face charges of piracy, smuggling and illegal entry. The captain, Kenneth Blythe, and his crew were being treated as victims of maritime piracy and there was no suggestion they were involved in any way in illegal activities, a Hainan official said.

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