Laju hijacking


On 31 January 1974,1 four men armed with submachine guns and explosives2 attacked the Shell Oil Refinery on Pulau Bukom Besar,3 an island south of mainland Singapore. After they failed to blow up the oil tanks, the group – dubbed the “Bukom bombers” by the newspapers – hijacked the ferryboat Laju at the Bukom jetty and held five crew members hostage.4 After several days of negotiation that involved the governments of Singapore and Japan, the hijackers agreed to release the hostages in exchange for a party of guarantors to ensure their safe passage out of Singapore. The incident ended on 8 February 1974, when the hijackers left for Kuwait.

Description
The four hijackers began their operation by hiring a boatman on the pretext of wanting to go fishing. When the boat reached the Bukom area, they attacked the boatman and took over the craft. However, their boat ran aground on a coral reef and they tricked a passing boatman to tow them to the island.5


Once on Bukom, they tried to hijack a vehicle to penetrate deeper into the refinery, but failed.6 They planted explosives at three oil tanks, but the blasts caused minimal damage. One of the tanks burst into flames, but firemen managed to put the fire out quickly. About S$15,000 worth of crude fuel oil was lost.7

The foursome failed to detonate their remaining explosives.8 To escape, they boarded the Laju, a ferry operating between Bukom and mainland Singapore. They took all five crew members on board hostage and ordered them to sail into international waters. Marine police on patrol boats soon spotted and pursued the Laju . After the Laju came to a stop at the Eastern Anchorage, marine police boats, customs launches and navy gunboats surrounded it and negotiations began.9

The four identified themselves as two members of the Japanese Red Army and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. They said that their Bukom operation was in retaliation against imperialism and was aimed at disrupting the oil supply from Singapore to South Vietnam, an act of solidarity with the revolutionary forces in Vietnam.10

After days of intense negotiations, during which two hostages escaped, the hijackers agreed to release the remaining hostages in exchange for a group of guarantors to accompany them on their flight from Singapore to Kuwait and to ensure their safety until Kuwait.11 This came after another group of terrorists seized the Japanese embassy in Kuwait on 6 February taking several hostages, demanding that the Japanese government send a plane to Singapore to take the Bukom bombers to Kuwait.

On 7 February, the four were taken to Paya Lebar Airport, where they surrendered their arms, released the hostages, and boarded a specially arranged Japan Airlines (JAL) aircraft. At 1:25 am on 8 February, the plane departed. On board with the hijackers were 13 Singapore government representatives acting as guarantors, two Japanese government officials and 12 JAL crew members.

The Singapore guarantors – comprising eight government officials and four Singapore Armed Forces commandos – were led by S. R. Nathan, who was then director of security and intelligence at the Ministry of Defence.12  Besides Nathan, the other guarantors were: Yoong Siew Wah, Tee Tua Bah, Seah Wai Toh, Andrew Tan, S. Raja Gopal, Saraj Din, Tan Kim Peng, Gwee Peng Hong, Teo Ah Bah, Tan Lye Kwee, Haji Abu Bakar and Haji Rahman.13

Upon arrival in Kuwait, the Singapore party handed the matter over to the Kuwaiti and Japanese governments and returned to Singapore, arriving the following day on 9 February.

Significance
Had the Bukom bombers successfully destroyed the Shell refinery, there would have been a shortage of oil in the region for at least a few years, as Singapore was the world’s third-largest refining centre, supplying oil to other countries in the region.14 The incident is considered as Singapore’s first encounter with international terrorism.15

While the government managed to end the crisis without any loss of life, it was more drawn out than desired.16 Through the Singapore government, the hijackers had sought the help of the North Korean government to escape to an Arab country. However, Singapore’s consultations with North Korea had led to nowhere.17 The hijackers also asked the Japanese ambassador in Singapore to arrange for a plane out of Singapore, but the Japanese government's initial refusal to provide the aircraft led to a delay in their departure.18

Timeline
31 Jan 1974
10:15 am: A boatman takes the hijackers out to sea, believing they are fishing enthusiasts.19

11:45 am: First explosion is heard on Bukom.20
11:50 am: Marine police receives news of a bomb attack at Bukom.21
1:15 pm–1:30 pm: The Laju comes to a stop at the Eastern Anchorage and negotiations soon begin.22

7 Feb 1974
The Singapore government makes an offer to the hijackers for safe passage out of Singapore to Kuwait in exchange for the surrender of their arms and release of the hostages. The offer is accepted by the hijackers.

10:30 pm: Hijackers and their hostages leave the Laju for Paya Lebar Airport.23

8 Feb 1974
1:25 am: JAL aircraft carrying the hijackers and their Singaporean guarantors departs.24



Author
Valerie Chew



References
1. Fong, L. (1974, February 17). The Laju affairThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Ong, K. S. (2002, January 7). 1974-The Laju incident. Retrieved from Ministry of Defence website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/overview/birth_of_saf/v06n01_history.html
3. Chandran, R., et al. (1974, February 1). Safe passage for Bukom bombers. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Chandran, R., et al. (1974, February 1). Safe passage for Bukom bombers. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Ong, K. S. (2002, January 7). 1974-The Laju incident. Retrieved from Ministry of Defence website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/overview/birth_of_saf/v06n01_history.html
6. Ong, K. S. (2002, January 7). 1974-The Laju incident. Retrieved from Ministry of Defence website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/overview/birth_of_saf/v06n01_history.html
7. Chandran, R., et al. (1974, February 1). Safe passage for Bukom bombers. The Straits Times, p. 1; Fong, L. (1974, February 17). The Laju affairThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Ong, K. S. (2002, January 7). 1974-The Laju incident. Retrieved from Ministry of Defence website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/overview/birth_of_saf/v06n01_history.html
9. Chandran, R., et al. (1974, February 1). Safe passage for Bukom bombers. The Straits Times, p. 1; Fong, L. (1974, February 17). The Laju affairThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chandran, R., et al. (1974, February 1). Safe passage for Bukom bombers. The Straits Times, p. 1; Fong, L. (1974, February 17). The Laju affairThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ong, K. S. (2002, January 7). 1974-The Laju incident. Retrieved from Ministry of Defence website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/overview/birth_of_saf/v06n01_history.html
12. Ong, K. S. (2002, January 7). 1974-The Laju incident. Retrieved from Ministry of Defence website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/overview/birth_of_saf/v06n01_history.html
13. Yap, B. T. (1974, February 10). Hijackers say: We are sorryThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Our duty as big oil centre. (1974, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Singh, B. (1991). Singapore's encounters with terrorism prior to the SQ 117 skyjacking. In Skyjacking of SQ 117: Causes, course and consequences. Singapore: Crescent Design Associates, pp. 28–30. (Call no.: RSING 364.154095957 BIL)
16. No pushover. (1974, February 9). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Hijackers pick N. Korean mission. (1974, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. No pushover. (1974, February 9). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Fong, L. (1974, February 17). The Laju affairThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Ong, K. S. (2002, January 7). 1974-The Laju incident. Retrieved from Ministry of Defence website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/overview/birth_of_saf/v06n01_history.html
21. Chandran, R., et al. (1974, February 1). Safe passage for Bukom bombers. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Chandran, R., et al. (1974, February 1). Safe passage for Bukom bombers. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Ong, K. S. (2002, January 7). 1974-The Laju incident. Retrieved from Ministry of Defence website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/overview/birth_of_saf/v06n01_history.html
24. Guarantors of safe passage. (1974, February 8). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




Further resources

Guarantors of safe passage. (1974, February 8). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Hijackers land safely in Kuwait. (1974, February 8). The New Nation, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Hijackers pick N. Korean mission. (1974, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Hijackers reject ferry offer. (1974, February 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Hijackers: Three moves by govt. (1974, February 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

How it was planned. (1974, February 9). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Laju guerrillas go into hiding. (1974, February 9). New Nation, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Mabbett, H. (1974, February 8). Japanese jet takes terrorists to Kuwait [Microfilm no.: NL 8026]. The Times, p. 7.

National Security Coordination Centre. (2004). The fight against terror: Singapore's national security strategy. Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RSING 355.03305957 FIG)

Offer of asylum. (1974, February 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Plane on way. (1974, February 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Sail ferry to freedom offer. (1974, February 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tan, A., et al. (1974, February 7). All set for flight to freedomNew Nation, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tan, A., & Wee, S. (1974, February 9). Hijackers took one month to plot attackNew Nation, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Terrorism--Singapore
Law and government>>Security
Politics and Government>>National Security
People and communities>>Social conflict>>Terrorism
National security
Laju Ferry Hijacking Incident, 1974
Transportation
Commerce and Industry>>Transportation
Laju Hijacking Incident, Pulau Bukom, Singapore, 1974
Hijacking of ships--Singapore
Politics and Government
Events