China last week ruled out hijacking in the case of a Malaysia-registered tanker seized by Chinese maritime police in the southern province of Hainan earlier this year.
Foreign Ministry officials told the state-run China Daily newspaper that the Petro Ranger was involved in smuggling oil and kerosene when it was discovered by Hainan authorities in Chinese waters on April 26.Marine police seized the ship, then flying a Honduran flag and operating under the name Mt. Wilby, and confiscated its unregistered cargo of 3,000 tons of diesel and 1,600 tons of kerosene.
''Foreign Ministry and Hainan provincial sources said that rather than being hijacked off course as reported, the crew had instead been involved in alleged smuggling of oil into China,'' the newspaper said.
It was unclear why China had ruled out hijacking despite the Australian captain's insistence that he had been robbed of his command. Australian captain Kenneth Blyth told Hainan police that the ship had been hijacked by 12 Indonesian crewmembers and forced into Chinese waters, the newspaper said.
The Petro Ranger had been reported missing by its agent, Singapore Petroships Pte. Ltd., one day after it left Singapore on April 16 for Ho Chi Minh city in southern Vietnam.
Based on Mr. Blyth's testimony, provincial officials ordered marine police to investigate the incident. The ship and 21 members of its crew were released on May 28, but China detained the 12 Indonesian suspects.
During a lengthy probe aided by Malaysian Interpol officials, police discovered the ship's real name was the Petro Ranger and there was no evidence of hijacking, the newspaper said.