Mutiny behind Malaysian tanker's change of course: authorities

August 17, 2016 12:52 AM EDT

Tankers in the Strait of Singapore May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Henning Gloystein/File Photo

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - An oil tanker which was first reported to have been hijacked and sailed into Indonesian waters, was likely taken over by its own crew due to a dispute with their employer, Malaysian authorities said on Wednesday.

Vier Harmoni, carrying 900,000 liters of diesel worth around 1.6 million ringgit ($390,000), went missing after leaving the Tanjung Pelepas port on the eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia on Tuesday before it was relocated in the waters off Batam, Indonesia.

Malaysian and Indonesian authorities had been conducting search operations in the area to locate the vessel.

First Admiral Mohd Taha Ibrahim of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said early investigations suggested the ship's disappearance was not caused by theft or robbery.

"[It] was closely related to internal disagreements between its owner, leaser and crew," MMEA said in a statement.

Mohd Taha said contact was made in the afternoon with the ship's captain, who said the Vier Harmoni was on its way to Batam and that all of the ship's crew members were safe.

MT Vier Harmoni is registered in Batam and leased to a Malaysian company, carrying 10 Indonesian crew.

Mohd Taha said MMEA was continuing to investigate the cause of the ship's diversion.

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon suggests the ship's transponder has been turned off since June 20.

The coasts around Southeast Asia have been a target of pirates and militants looking to steal fuel and kidnap crew for a ransom.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines agreed in June to step up air and sea patrols and escorts for commercial ships in their common maritime areas to fend off potential hijacks, kidnaps and robbery.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Tom Hogue and Alexandra Hudson)

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