Piracy raps filed vs 4 in hijacking of Malaysian tugboat, barge

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews \ May 21) – The Region 12 Maritime Group and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) here filed anti-piracy charges Friday against four suspected pirates of a hijacked Malaysian-flagged tugboat and barge that were recovered at a private port here last Wednesday.

Senior Supt. Jessie Taduran, PNP Maritime Group-Region 12 director, said they charged the four suspects before the City Prosecution Office here for their alleged involvement in the hijacking of Malaysian tugboat “Atlantic 3″ and barge “Atlantic 5″ off the Indonesian territorial waters late last month.

The suspects have been detained at the PCG station here and were identified as ship captain Reynaldo Onde, assistant ship captain Ricky Jobahid, chief engineer Marcelo Zapanta and assistant chief engineer Allan Zapanta.

Taduran said they found the four suspects, who were all residents of this city, aboard the tugboat and the barge during a joint operation with coast guard personnel at a port owned by KIngford Fishing Company here last Wednesday afternoon.

He said they caught the suspects allegedly in the act of defacing the boat’s names and altering its other distinct marks and features during the raid.

“They claimed that they were just there to secure the boats but the initial evidences we gathered showed that they were involved in their hijacking,” he said in a phone interview.

The police official said their initial investigation showed that the four suspects took over the boats from alleged Indonesian sea pirates when it docked at Kingford’s port last May 15.

“The Indonesian crew was no longer there when we conducted the raid,” he said.

The tugboat and the barge were reported hijacked off  Indonesian waters last April 27 after leaving the port of Pulau Bintan in Indonesia, a PCG report said.

The ship’s Malaysian owner immediately reported the incident to the Regional Cooperation Against Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea (RECAAP) office based in Singapore, which later alerted maritime and coastguard authorities in the Philippines.

Coast Guard Southeastern Mindanao District chief Commodore Lino Dabi said a boarding and inspection conducted by joint maritime and coast guard operatives confirmed that the vessels were indeed the ones hijacked off Indonesian waters.

“The vessels were apparently in the process of altering their ships’ description by defacing their names on the hull and ships’ documents and machineries, and their IMO [International Maritime Organization] registration numbers,” the PCG report added. (Allen V. Estabillo /MindaNews)