Malaysian marine police seized a ship, believed to have been stolen three years ago, in a nighttime operation that ended with commandos rappelling up its side and detaining 20 Chinese crew members, an official said yesterday.
The police tracked MV Paulijing for 17 hours before boarding the ship off Malaysia's southern Kukup island in the Straits of Malacca before dawn on Tuesday, Marine Police Commander Abdul Rahman Ahmad said.
He said police received information that the vessel, which had passed through the central Malaysian port of Klang on Monday morning, closely resembled cargo ship MV Natris that was hijacked near Indonesia's Batam island in November 2002.
A patrol boat went up to the ship and ordered the vessel to stop, but the captain ignored the command.
Instead of chasing the ship and taking action in the busy waterway, police told officers in Johor, where the ship was headed, to intercept it, he said.
"We could not chase or force them to stop because in that crowded, busy port, that could have endangered other vessels," he said.
"So we laid our plans, flew in our special forces south to Johor and waited for the ship there," he added.
Abdul Rahmad said 45 marine special forces and police commandos in four patrol boats surrounded the ship off Johor at 3:15am on Tuesday, before it could enter the waters of Singapore.
Twelve officers boarded the moving vessel, Abdul Rahman said, adding that the crew had surrendered without a fight, Abdul Rahman said.
The captain and mates, all Chinese nationals aged between 20 and 45 years, were being investigated for the possession of a stolen vessel. Abdul Rahman said authorities are yet to confirm that the ship -- carrying soybeans and vinegar and heading from India to Vietnam -- is the stolen MV Natris, registered in Panama.
"The verification is in progress, it will take a few days to confirm," he said.
The police were tipped off by the International Maritime Bureau, a watchdog that had been monitoring the vessel for nearly six months, said Noel Choong, head of the bureau's piracy watch center in Kuala Lumpur.