A Malaysian-flagged tanker carrying petroleum has gone missing off the southern coast and is feared to have been hijacked, said the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) on June 14.

Head of the IMB Kuala Lumpur office Noel Choong affirmed the owner of the vessel MT Orkim Harmony last had contact with the ship on late June 11.

He added the vessel’s condition remains unknown, but is predicted to have been hijacked.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was "distressed by the news" and prayed for the safety of the 22 crew members, 16 of whom are Malaysian.

Bernama news agency reported that search operations are ongoing with the Malaysian Navy deploying three vessels with 150 personnel while the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency dispatched a helicopter, three ships and a boat.

Over the past two years, London-based IMB has warned that the waters of Southeast Asia are becoming the world's piracy hotspot amid a rash of attacks on small coastal tankers.

In a quarterly report recently released, it said the Southeast Asian region experienced 38 pirate attacks in the period or 70 percent of the global total of 54. Pirates usually siphon off the cargo to other vessels before releasing the ships and their crews.

Piracy in the region significantly reduced in the previous decade through stepped-up regional cooperation and maritime patrols, but has re-emerged as a hazard.

Much of the world's trade passes through Southeast Asian shipping lanes such as the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia.-VNA