April 16, 2009 / 8:34 AM / 11 years ago

Pirates steal tugboat near Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) - A container ship rescued at least 10 crew members from a Singapore-registered tugboat taken over by machete-wielding pirates near Philippine territorial waters, coast guard officials said Thursday.

The rescued crew — six Indonesians, a Malaysian and three from Myanmar — were taken by the M/V ANL Explorer to Manila after they were found drifting aboard a lifeboat in the South China Sea Tuesday, Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, coast guard chief, said.

“They were hungry and exhausted but all of them were found to be physically fit,” Tamayo told Reuters, adding the government had alerted the international piracy centre in Kuala Lumpur to the incident.

Tamayo said the Singapore-registered tugboat Prospaq T1 was on its way to Vietnam towing a huge empty barge to load sand when it was attacked by about a dozen pirates on April 7 in the South China Sea.

He said the crew was held for about a week before they were set adrift on a lifeboat without food and water. The pirates took off with the tugboat and the barge.

The waters around the maritime borders of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Phiippines in the South China Sea have traditionally been a haven for pirates, but there has been a decline in their activity in recent years because of increased surveillance and patrols.

Since mid-2000s, the coast guard said only two piracy cases had been reported within Philippine waters, when armed men took control of vessels. Two attempts were also reported last year in waters near the southern island of Mindanao.

Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by David Fox

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