The whereabouts of a 1,950-ton palm oil tanker that went missing off West Java on Dec. 28 remain unknown, with the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) and the Navy speculating on its disappearance.
The Namse Bangdzod, carrying 1 million liters of crude palm oil (CPO), departed from Sampit, Central Kalimantan, on Dec. 27 and was expected to arrive in Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok Port the following day.
The Sampit Port Authority Office says it lost contact with the vessel in the waters of Ujung Karawang, West Java, on Dec. 28, and the vessel never arrived in Tanjung Priok.
According to tracking website marinetraffic.com, the tanker was in Ujung Karawang waters until Jan. 3, with the last data input occurring at 9:42 a.m. on that date.
Officials are now left questioning whether the ship has sunk or been hijacked.
Basarnas believes the tanker, which is manned by a captain and 11 crew members, has fallen victim to piracy.
The agency has been searching for the tanker for three days and is ready to end the search.
“We believe it has been hijacked. This means it’s not our responsibility anymore,” the agency’s spokesperson Suhri Sinaga told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
The Navy, however, is unconvinced.
Arba Agung, who heads the Navy Information Agency in 1st Fleet Command, which oversees the western part of Indonesia, Jakarta-Sabang, said it was too early to say that the tanker had been hijacked.
He said it was unlikely because the route is considered safe with no history of piracy.
“If it were hijacked, it would involve a third party, but there has been no ransom demand reported, at least so far. We must go deeper into this case first.”
Agung claimed that the ship’s apparent position had been recorded several times through its automatic identification system, which indicated that the ship had changed location several times.
It was reportedly in Jakarta Bay and then moved to Sunda Kelapa Port. But the ship, Agung said, was not in either of those places.
“Indeed, it could have been hijacked, but we have no idea who did it because no ship has been hijacked in the past three years in our sea area.”
Maritime expert from the 10 November Institute of Technology Raja Oloan Saut Gurning concurred with Agung, saying there had never been any report of piracy in those waters.
Gurning, however, refused to rule out the possibility of piracy, saying that he believed the size of the CPO cargo aboard the tanker could be a reason for it being hijacked.
He argued that it was unlikely that the tanker had an accident as the weather was fine and there had been no distress signal.
It is also unlikely that the vessel was adrift at sea as the Navy had found no sign of it, he said.
“So the piracy possibility needs to be considered because its positions have been tracked several times by several vessel-finder providers,” Gurning said.
It has been 12 days since the tanker went missing and the authorities still have no clue as to its whereabouts.
Sinaga said Basarnas had broadcast the Namse Bangdzod’s details via coastal radio for mariners sailing from Sampit to Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan in the hope that if the ship is seen it will be reported immediately.
The 1993-built vessel, owned by shipping company PT Petronusa Niaga Energy and operated by PT Surabaya Shipping Lines, is 75.15 meters in length.
Sinaga said the agency would continue searching for the next four days and would let the Navy and the water police take over the mission after that.
Agung said the Navy had deployed four warships in the search for the tanker around the Java Sea. A search, he added, would also be conducted from Surabaya in East Java to the central part of Indonesia using maritime patrol aircraft.
“We will continue searching until we find it,” he said.