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Vietnamese coast guards vs. pirates – P1: A face-to-face encounter

Tuesday, June 30, 2015, 17:36 GMT+7
Vietnamese coast guards vs. pirates – P1: A face-to-face encounter
A Vietnam Coast Guard ship (L) approaches the hijacked Zafirah ship.

Several hijacked freighters have been stopped and many pirates have been arrested by the marine police force of Vietnam, officially called the Vietnam Coast Guard (VCG), in recent years.

This matches the alarming recent increase in sea piracy in the waters of Southeast Asia.

In the evening of a day in 2012, the Information Sharing Center of the VCG received an urgent message from the International Maritime Bureau based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, informing them of the missing Malaysian vessel Zafirah, which was carrying light crude oil.

The location where the freighter had made last contact with its owner was 110 nautical miles, or 204km, south-southeast of Vung Tau, Vietnam.

The agency in Malaysia notified the VCG of the International Maritime Organization number, loading capacity, cruise direction, speed and cargo of the ship in distress.

The 1,125 ton tanker, which was carrying 300 tons of light crude oil, was reported missing and thought to have been hijacked in Vietnamese waters.

The news was immediately spread to the commanding unit of the VCG.

At 10:06 am the following morning, the Information Sharing Center of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP-ISC), based in Singapore, updated the VCG on the latest information about the location and direction of the vessel.

“It was moving at 10 nautical miles an hour,” the ReCAAP-ISC said, adding that the vessel was in Vietnamese waters and requesting action from local authorities.

Then, Vietnamese police ship CSB 6007 was making a reconnaissance.

In the afternoon, or some 24 hours after receiving the news of the missing ship, the VCG was informed that the operators of the ship had managed to anchor at a port in Vietnam to unload cargo.

The VCG judged that the vessel might have been anchored at Con Son Island since it was only 42 nautical miles from it.

Major General Nguyen Quang Dam, commander of the VCG, recalled, “We were cautious because the pirates were well armed and ready to fight us.

“We had to both limit the danger to the lives of the Vietnamese coast guards and prevent a possible fire or explosion on the ship, which could negatively impact the marine environment,” he said.

After judging that the ship was in Vung Tau waters, the VCG assigned two ships, CSB 4034 and CSB 9001, to approach it when it was 45 nautical miles east-southeast of Con Dao Island.

The features and colors of the ship were sent to the VCG for precise identification.

Another VCG ship, CSB 4031, was on its way to the site to coordinate with the two other ships.

Early on November 22, or more than two days after receiving the information about the missing ship, two Vietnamese police vessels arrived at the site where the hijacked ship was expected to arrive.

After identifying a suspicious tanker, the VCG turned on the lights in the cabins of their ships, but the other crew did not respond.

It was 2:30 am, and the sea was completely dark.

This was odd, for normal ships often ask for the reason for the presence of marine police vessels.

Captain Le Hai Truong, aboard one of the Vietnamese police ships, contacted the vessel in question via international channel 16, asking the ship to identify itself.

It remained silent. International laws state that all ships must be available for contact via channel 16 at any time, and any ship that refuses to reply is considered suspicious.

Captain Truong repeated the message, but the ship failed to clarify their departure time and destination, direction of movement and cargo.

After being questioned several times, those on board the suspected ship gave inconsistent replies. Once they said they were on their way to China, but later they said they were en route to Singapore.

The police ships decided to order the vessel to drop anchor and stop sailing.

At the same time, the VCG ships were ordered to keep away from the range of an AK rifle.

The vessels were well prepared for tough action.

(To be continued)

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