SINGAPORE — The Ai Maru steamed alone under night skies on June 14 when a speedboat slipped in from the darkness and overtook the tanker about 30 miles off the coast of Malaysia. At 9:15 p.m., seven men with handguns and knives clambered up over the side, smashed through doors, tied up crew members at gunpoint and bashed the Ai Maru’s communications equipment. The attackers stripped the 13 crew members of their personal belongings, locked them in a room and spent the next hours getting to the real work at hand: stealing the cargo. A second tanker, this one piloted by more pirates, pulled alongside. The maritime robbers siphoned a total of 620 metric tons of marine gas oil from Ai Maru to their own ship. At 5 a.m., when naval and coast guard vessels arrived at the Ai Maru, dead in the water with its lights glowing, the pirates were long gone. Their total haul, at black market fuel prices, came in at about $550,000.
Welcome to the world’s most dangerous waters, where a whole new style of piracy is rewriting the playbook of maritime crime. The attack on the Ai Maru, which was documented by ReCAAP, a multinational body that combats piracy, and the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB), is a textbook example of the piracy plaguing the seas of the Singapore Strait and Strait of Malacca—the world’s busiest commercial waterway.
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