On 31 January 1974, four men armed with submachine guns and explosives attacked the Shell oil refinery complex on Pulau Bukom, a small island lying south of Singapore. The terrorists were two members of the Japanese Red Army (JRA) and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Their goal was to disrupt the oil supply from Singapore to other countries, especially South Vietnam. On 1 February 1974, a PFLP spokesman made a statement in Beirut that the attack was a warning to all monopolistic oil companies on one hand and imperialism in general on the other - especially the perceived oppression of the Arab masses in the Middle East.
At the beginning of their operation, the terrorists' boat ran aground on a coral reef. They managed to reach the shore of Bukom after convincing an unsuspecting boatman to tow them towards the island. As they headed towards a gate of an oil tank installation, they fired shots at two passing vehicles although no one was injured. A sentry at a security post managed to escape and raise the alarm.
The terrorists were able to detonate 3 of the 12 explosives they were carrying, but they caused little damage. To escape, they then hijacked the ferryboat Laju at the Bukom jetty and held 5 crew members hostage. This led to a chase and Laju was quickly surrounded by navy gunboats and marine police boats at the Eastern Anchorage.
This was followed by a few days of intense negotiations, during which two hostages managed to escape by jumping overboard in the middle of the night. The terrorists later agreed to release the other crew members in exchange for a party of "guarantors" for their safe passage to the Middle East. This 13-men party consisted of four commandos from the Singapore Armed Forces and eight other government officials. The party was led by the Director of Security and Intelligence Division at the Ministry of Defence, S R Nathan, who later became the President of Singapore in 1999.
On the night of 7 February, the group was transferred from Laju to the Marine Police Headquarters and then to Paya Lebar Airport where the terrorists surrendered their weapons. After they freed the remaining three hostages, the four terrorists left Singapore on 8 February at 1:25 am, accompanied by Nathan’s team on a specially arranged Japan Airlines flight to Kuwait. After reaching Kuwait, the 13-men party flew back and reached Singapore on the following day.
All members of the negotiating team received National Day Honours.