Indonesian Navy Holding Tanker, Crew Wanted by Cambodia for Alleged Oil Theft

Indonesia is holding a Bahamas-flagged oil tanker, its Bangladeshi captain and 18 other crew members who are suspected of stealing nearly 300,000 barrels of crude oil from Cambodia, authorities said Wednesday.

The 600-foot ship, the M.T. Strovolos, was illegally anchored off Sumatra with its identification system turned off when authorities seized it on July 27, three days after Phnom Penh issued an Interpol red notice about the alleged theft, an Indonesian Navy official said.

An Indonesian warship, the KRI John Lie-358, intercepted the oil tanker near the Anambas Islands in the Riau Islands province after the Strovolos had sailed into Indonesian waters in the South China Sea without permission, said Rear Adm. Arsyad Abdullah, commander of Naval Fleet Command 1. 

“The success in seizing the tanker is thanks to cooperation among nations in Southeast Asia, and especially the coordination between the Indonesian Navy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said in a statement released by the navy.

“The Navy will not hesitate to take action against all forms of violations that occur in the waters in Indonesian national jurisdictions.”

Arsyad said the operation followed an Interpol red notice that had been requested by Cambodia and forwarded to Indonesian authorities.

It was not immediately clear why the Indonesian Navy waited nearly a month until publicizing the news about the seizure of the ship and its crew. The tanker had sailed into Indonesian waters from Thailand, the navy said.  

The nineteen crewmembers – 13 Indians, three Bangladeshis and three from Myanmar – were detained and later taken to a port on nearby Batam Island as part of an investigation, the admiral said.

The Bangladeshi captain has been named a suspect for allegedly anchoring in the Indonesian territorial sea without a permit and could face a year in prison, or a fine of up to 200 million rupiah (U.S. $13,865) if found guilty, the navy statement said.

“The case has been submitted by the Navy investigators to the Batam prosecutor’s office,” Arsyad said.

KrisEnergy, a troubled Singapore-based oil and gas company, had rented the tanker-ship for oil storage as part of Cambodia’s recent bid to extract its own petroleum, the AFP news agency reported, citing authorities.

The firm had filed for liquidation in June but was unable to pay the tanker’s crew, authorities said, according to the AFP report.

“The company … reported to our government that the tanker stole the oil. There are some 290,000 barrels of crude” aboard, AFP quoted Cheap Suor, director-general of petroleum at the Cambodian Ministry of Mines and Energy, as saying.

“(But) the tanker said KrisEnergy owed it money.”

In May, Indonesia released two oil-tanker captains from China and Iran as well as their vessels and crews, days after a court handed suspended sentences of one year each for carrying out an unauthorized ship-to-ship petroleum transfer in waters off West Kalimantan on Borneo Island.

Chinese national Chen Yo Qun, captain of the Panama-flagged MT Freya, and Mehdi Monghasemjahromi, skipper of the Iranian-flagged MT Horse, were found guilty of violating Indonesia’s navigational rules by conducting an oil transfer at sea without a permit in late January.

After the January incident, Aan Kurnia, the chief of Indonesia’s coast guard (Bakamla), called for tougher laws against navigational violations in Indonesian waters.

All foreign vessels, including warships, have the right of passage as long as they transit continuously and do not pose a security threat.

Indonesia requires all ships passing through archipelagic waters to activate their automatic identification systems, or report any damage to those systems. Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is the only nation that has designated archipelagic sea lanes.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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