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PCG confirms tugboat ASTA found in Surigao

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has confirmed that the Singapore registered tugboat ASTA which was reported hijacked on February 6, 2010 off Pulau Tioman, Malaysia, was found at Loreto, Surigao del Norte on February 25.

PCG cited reports that ASTA was towing a barge CALLISTA which departed from Singapore for Cambodia on February 5, 2010. The following day, the ship agent reported lost communications with the tugboat off Pulau Tioman, Malaysia.

The tugboat had reportedly deviated from its planned course and was tracked to be heading northeasterly in the South China Sea.

There were 12 crew members onboard the tugboat and no cargo onboard the barge. The ASTA was scheduled to arrive at Cambodia on February 9. The ship owner suspected that the tugboat had been hijacked and reported the incident to the Singapore Port Operations Control Center (POCC) who had issued a broadcast to all vessels to report sightings of ASTA and CALLISTA to POCC.

Five sightings of the barge were subsequently received from passing ships from February 10 to 14, 2010. The barge was located on February 17. It was assessed that the tugboat ASTA was heading towards the Philippine seas and has been reportedly renamed ROXY 1.

On February 17, the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) vessel spotted a life raft off the Adraiser Reef and rescued 11 of the 12 crew members who were believed to be the crew of the tugboat ASTA.

The lone missing crew is believed to be the chief engineer. According to the rescued crew, the barge was boarded by eight unidentified persons clad in dark colored clothes while navigating three nautical miles off Palau Tioman on February 6.

The pirates armed with rifles and knives blindfolded the crew and locked them inside the cabins of the Master and Chief Engineer. On February 10, the crew was set adrift in a life raft. PCG has received a report from the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea (RECAAP) in Singapore and immediately alerted all maritime law enforcement agencies and commercial ships in southern Philippines to be on the lookout for the tugboat which was reportedly heading to the Philippines.

On February 25, the PNP Maritime Dapa informed the Coast Guard Station in Surigao that the tugboat ASTA which was renamed ROXY 1 was beached at Pamanaon, Loreto, Surigao del Norte.

PCG said the tugboat was found abandoned with a caretaker onboard. PCG commandant Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo has directed Coast Guard Northern Mindanao Commander Commodore Ed Gongona to further investigate the incident after the caretaker divulged the alleged owner of the tugboat. (Manila Bulletin)

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