Tale of a Modern Pirate Gang

by Mark Bruyneel

Date: 21-11-2000

Updated: 1-3-2003

This tale of the operations of a modern pirate gang starts in 1995. The gang may have operated much longer but specific piracy incidents have not been identified as their handiwork before their attack on the Anna Sierra. Unfortunately it is also unknown if the operations of this gang are typical of gangs who operate in Southeast Asia. It is illustrative, however, of how easy it is to set up such a gang and remain outside of the reach of the law. In 1998 this gang attacked another vessel: The Tenyu and in 1999 the Tanker Alondra Rainbow.

The Anna Sierra was a freighter which carried a cargoe of sugar from Ko Si Chang in Thailand to Manila in the Philippines. The 12.000 tons cargoe was worth 4 to 5 milion dollar. While sailing off the Thailand coast on 13 September 1995 she was attacked by a pirate gang which consisted of approximately 25-30 people. The pirates approached the vessel with a motorboat. The pirates were hooded and armed with machineguns (Arbuckle, 1996). After having taken over control of the ship, the crew was handcuffed and imprisoned in the engine room. That is where they remained for two days while she was being repainted and renamed the Artic Sea. The crew are then gathered on deck and threatened. They are robbed of any valuables and clothes and are forced overboard onto rafts without provisions or navigation equipment. They have luck on their side: Vietnamese fishermen rescue them after drifting around for one day and they survive the ordeal (Van Zalinge, 1996). On arrival in Vietnam the rescued crewmembers call the shipowners who immediately inform the Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) on September 17th (Grissim, 1997).
The pirates then piloted the Anna Sierra into the Chinese harbour of Beihai. At this port the port authorities were presented with false papers: the ship was supposedly registered at Kuala Lumpur under a Honduran Flag with bills of lading claiming the cargoe of sugar came from Santos, Brazil. While in this harbour they managed to sell the cargoe of sugar to a Chinese trader (Arbuckle, 1996). According to the PRC the buyer was a Chinese company in Beihai that had been defrauded of $800.000 dollars in April 1995 by a gang in Hong Kong. As a recompense the cargoe of sugar was sold to the company at a $800.000 dollar discount (Grissim, 1997). Meanwhile a large reward was offered through the International Maritime Bureau. This resulted in a reported sighting of the vessel in the harbour of Beihai, together with its cargoe and 14 of the pirates. The sighting was reported by an employee of the China Ocean Shipping Company who had reported it to the head office in Beijing (Grissim, 1997).
2 of the pirates were Malay and 12 had the Indonesian nationality (Gibson, 1997). The pirates were arrested by Chinese officials and everyone was glad that such a positive result was the outcome of the hijacking of the Anna Sierra. The Honduran registration proved to be false, Thai labels on the sugar bags proved that these did not come from Brazil and Registration numbers proved to be linked to previous vessels which were involved in cargoe theft (Arbuckle, 1996). A legal battle began. The PRC demonstrated that the official papers had been forged. The "company" in Hong Kong immediately presented a second set of documents claiming to be the owner of the Artic Sea. When the PRC again proved that these were forgeries, another company appeared with new documents claiming they were the oweners. This legal battle became sandbogged.
2 Years later 10 of the pirates were released without any charges to the astonishment of everyone. They were sent home to Indonesia. What happened to the other 4 is unknown (Grissim, 1997). All this time the ship has remained in the harbour of Beihai. Because it began to list it was towed away and beached nearby where it is now slowly deteriorating and is probably unseaworthy. China has refused to let the vessel go until the shipowners would pay the docking fees (Gibson, 1997;Arbuckle, 1996). The remaining cargoe was in 1997 sold (probably as payment for docking fees) (Grissim, 1997).

The second time we here of this pirate gang is in 1998. In December 1998 The M.V. Tenyu with a cargoe of approx. 3006 Aluminium ingots goes missing with 15 crewm members after departing from Kuala Tanjung (on North Sumatra) on 27 September 1998. The vessel was on its way to Korea when it "disappeared" only a day after leaving (ICC Annual Report, 1999). They are suspected to have been boarded and taken over by pirates in the Strait of Malacca where the ship would have had to reduce speed (Christern, 5 Feb 1999). In mid-October there was an unconfirmed report of an unidentified vessel that could have been The Tenyu sailing in the Gulf of Thailand (Hughes, 16 Nov 1998).
Hong Kong insurers alerted their contacts along the Chinese coast and eventually the vessel was found up the Yangzi river in the port of Zhangjigang (The Economist, 18 Dec 1999).
The vessel was repainted and renamed the Sanei 1 and flew under the flag of Panama. That was partly why Chinese port officials grew suspicious of this 14-year old rusty vessel: in just a few places (where the name would have been) the ship was freshly painted. The officials informed the Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur. A lawyer for the shipowner came and climbed aboard the vessel which looked to be disguised as a Chinese Border Guard. He was able to recognize the vessel by the original serial number that was still carved on the ship's engine (Elliott, 1999). The Tenyu was officially found on 22 December 1998. She was not only disguised but also operating with a different crew: all had the Indonesian nationality. Any trace of the original crew was gone and the 13 Chinese and 2 Koreans are still missing. They are feared to have been killed by the pirates. In the 1999 annual report of the International Maritime Bureau the fate of the original crew is reported to be unknown (ICC Annual Report, 1999). 2 or three of the new crew (including the chief mate) disappered shortly after the port authorities detained the vessel. This suggests the involvement of international crime syndicates according to the lawyers that were involved the Tenyu case (Elliott, 1999).
Sixteen people on board her were arrested on suspicion of piracy by the Chinese authorties. All 16 Indonesians were later repatriated to Indonesia without convictions even though 2 or 3 of them had been identified as being part of the same gang that had hijacked the Anna Sierra in 1995 (The Economist, 18 Dec 1999). The crew manifest of both the Anna Sierra and the Tenyu contained the names of the same 2 pirates: Gary E.P. Mandry and Gary Elman (Oostra, 2000).
In June 1999 the MV Tenyu was returned to its Japanese owner: Takeshi Masumoto (Elliott, 1999).

The third time the same pirate gang surfaced is October 1999. A tanker called Alondra Rainbow was attacked and disappeared after it had left Kuala Tanjung in Sumatra, Indonesia on Oct 22. The ship was boarded by 10 pirates only 20 minutes after it had left. Several other pirates joined the first group (Yomiuri Shimbun, 10 Nov 1999). The ship carried Aluminium ingots as cargoe and had a crew of 15 filipinos and two Japanese sailors (Lloyd's List, 11 Nov 1999).
The ship's crew was tied up and afterwards they were then transferred to an older freighter that was brought alongside (Yomiuri Shimbun, 10 Nov 1999). After a week they were set adrift in a life raft and after 11 days were picked up by a Thai fisherman on 9 November. The fishermen took the crew to Phuket Island where the master filed his report on the incident at the local police station (Lloyd's List, 11 Nov 1999; Hand, 1999 Nov 16). The Captain and Chief engineer were back in Japan on Saturday 15 November. The Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) was informed of the incident and immediately issued an warning to all mariners and coastal authorities. After receiving several reports of sightings the PRC informed the authorities of Sri Lanka and the Indian coastguards of where to look for the vessel.
Fifteen Indonesian pirates had taken control of the vessel and appeared to be bound for the port Fujeira on the coast of Saudi Arabia when they were noticed by the Indian Coast Guard. The Alondra Rainbow was freshly painted and upon interrogation of the crew by radio they became suspicious. A Dornier aircraft was sent after her and two patrol boats were sent in pursuit. The patrol boats were able to catch up to it after the Dornier had found the vessel. When the patrol boats got nearer the pirates increased their speed from ±8 knots to 14 knots.
On November 14 the patrol boat caught up with the Alondra. The patrol boats repeatedly warned the pirates to stop and subject itself to an examination as provided under the UN Law of the Sea. Warning shots were fired across the bow of the Alondra but the pirates refused to give up. The Coast Guard then requested the assistance from the Indian Navy. The missile corvette INS Prahar was sent and it arrived at midnight the same day. After firing warning shots across the bow the gunboat fired its AK-630 cannons and its 76.2 mm main gun. The pirates soon gave up soon after the attack started. After taking the pirates prisoner the small fire that had started was put out by the boarding party. Several leaks were also discovered by the Coast Guard and plugged immediately. It was also discovered that 40% of its 7000 tonnes cargoe of aluminium ingots was offloaded before its capture by the Indian Navy (Shipping Times 1999 Nov 19).
After capture on 16 November the pirates were expected to be tried under the Indian Penal Code and under International Law. The pirates so far appear to be well organized (ICC report, 1999 Nov 24). Unclear is whether the Big bosses behind this pirate gang can be implicated. This will be very difficult since there usually is little evidence if the pirates themselves refuse to implicate them. So far the only thing that has become known is that members of this pirate gang have also participated in the attacks on the Anna Sierra and the Tenyu (Oostra, 2000). It looks unlikely that the pirates will be acquitted this time, since they have been caught redhanded. The internationality of the crime commited may make it difficult to charge the pirates, though.

On 25 February the 14 hijackers of the Japanese cargo carrier Alondra Rainbow were convicted of piracy and other crimes in a court in Mumbai, India (14 Hijackers, 2003). Of the original 15 prisoners one has died in custody. The accused were sentenced to imprisonment from six months to seven years. In several newspapers the verdict was seen as positive news about India's commitment to take action against pirates and it was hoped that the case would prove to be a deterrent for other pirates (14 Indonesians, 2003, How India, 2003). The IMB even called it a breakthrough in the fight against pirates on it's website(Indian court, 2003). It may be to soon to start cheering, however. The Defence counsellor will most probably appeal the verdict in the High court since he feels there were several major discrepancies in the prosecutors case. For instance, the captain of the Alondra Rainbow failed to identify anyone of the 14 accused as being part of the original gang of 10 pirates who initially hijacked the ship. He argued that the sailors who were captured on board the vessel were crew that had been put on board the ship during a layover in Manila and that they were innocent of piracy.

  1. Scourge of piracy returns to Southeast Asia / Tammy Arbuckle
    In: International Defense Review, vol. 29 (1996) nr.8, P.: 26-29
  2. A plague of pirates / Helen Gibson
    In: Time (1997 Aug 18), P.: 44-46
    Source: Isle of Tortuga
  3. Pirates: the terror of the sea = Piraten, de schrik van de zee
    / Edith van Zalinge ; Eng. transl. by John Hoeve. - [1996?]
    Source: Fortunecity
  4. Sea wolves feasting / John Grissim
    The Worldpaper Online (May, 1997)
    Source: Worldpaper Archive
  5. Piraten / Roel Oostra [Samenst.]. - AVRO/CTC, 2000 Oct 1. - (Close-Up)
    Coproduction: WDR/ARD, AVRO, Aegis Productions, CoBoFonds, Setu Films (India). Second Part
    of a 2-part Documentary: Misdaad op zee (= Crime at Sea) broadcast by Ned 1 between 18:29
    and 19:29 (AVRO), size: 53 min.
  6. Piracy and armed robbery against ships - annual report: 1st January-31st December 1998. - Barking,
    United Kingdom : ICC International Maritime Bureau, Jan 1999. - (Piracy and armed robbery
    against ships - annual report)
  7. Dead men tell no tales
    In: The Economist (1998 Dec 18) [Newspaper article]
    Source: The Economist Archive
  8. Growing concern for crew of missing cargo vessel / David Hughes
    In: Shipping Times (1998 Nov 16) [Newspaper article]
    Source: Shipping Times Archive
  9. Zeerovers vinden vrijhaven in China / Max Christern
    In: NRC Handelsblad (5 Feb 1999) [Newspaper article]
  10. Where pirates still sail / Dorinda Elliott
    In: Newsweek (5 July 1999), P.: 46-50
  11. Crew found in Thailand after freighter hijacked
    Yomiuri Shimbun (10 Nov 1999) [Newspaper article]
  12. Japanese call for UN piracy coast guard
    In: Lloyd's List International (1999 Nov 11) PSA-2471
  13. Set up UN Coast Guard to fight piracy in region - Japanese proposal comes as
    17 Japanese crewmen were rescued after hijack in Malacca Straits / Marcus Hand
    In: Shipping Times (1999 Nov 16)
    Source: Shipping Times Archive
  14. Pirates nabbed with force - pirated Japanese ship and its crew taken by Indian Navy
    to Mumbai where the crew are being questioned
    In: Shipping Times (1999 Nov 19)
    Source: Shipping Times Archive
  15. International cooperation beats modern-day pirates. - Paris : International Chamber
    of Commerce - the world business organization, 1999 Nov 24
  16. 14 hijackers of Japanese ship convicted
    In: The Times of India (2003 Feb 26)
  17. 14 Indonesians convicted for hijacking Japanese ship
    Asian Tribune (2003 Feb 26)
  18. How India brought pirates to heel
    In: Mumbai Newsline (2003 Feb 26)
  19. Indian court jails pirates in breakthrough for marine security. - London : International Maritime Bureau, 2003 Feb 27
    Source: http://www.iccwbo.org/ccs/news_archives/2003/alondra.asp