More than a dozen shipowners made payments of about $ 300,000 each to release ships detained by the Indonesian navy, which said they were anchored illegally in Indonesian waters near Singapore, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
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The dozen sources include shipowners, crew members and maritime security sources, all of whom are involved in the arrests and payments, which they say were made in cash to naval officers or by bank transfer to managers who told them they represented the Indonesian navy.
Reuters could not independently confirm that payments had been made to naval officers or establish who the final recipients of the payments were.
The arrests and payments were first reported by Lloyd’s List Intelligence, an industry website.
Rear Admiral Arsyad Abdullah, the Indonesian naval commander for the region, said in a written response to questions from Reuters that no payments had been made to the navy and also that it had hired no intermediaries in legal cases.
“It is not true that the Indonesian navy received or requested payment to release the ships,” Abdullah said.
He said there have been an increasing number of ship arrests in the past three months for anchoring without permission in Indonesian waters, deviating from the sailboat or stopping in the middle of the course for an irrational period of time. All the arrests were in accordance with Indonesian law, Abdullah said.
The Singapore Strait, one of the busiest waterways in the world, is packed with ships waiting days or weeks to dock in Singapore, a regional shipping hub where the COVID-19 pandemic has caused long delays. Ships of years anchored in waters in the east of the Strait while waiting to port, believing they are in international waters and therefore not responsible for any port fees, two marine analysts and two shipowners said.
The Indonesian navy says this area is located within its territorial waters and it intends to attack more heavily against ships anchored there without a license.
A spokesman for the Singapore Maritime and Port Authority, a government agency, declined to comment.
About 30 ships, including tankers, cargo ships and a pipeline, have been detained by the Indonesian navy in the last three months and the majority have since been released after payments of $ 250,000 to $ 300,000, according to two shipowners and two marine security sources. involved.
Making these payments is cheaper than possibly losing income from ships carrying valuable cargo, such as oil or grain, if they are tied up for months while a case is being heard in an Indonesian court, two shipowners said.
Two crew members of detained ships said armed naval sailors approached their ships on battleships, boarded them and escorted the ships to naval bases on Batam or Bintan, Indonesian islands south of Singapore, across the Strait.
The captains and often crew members were detained in cramped, suffocating rooms, sometimes for weeks, until shipowners organized cash to be delivered or a bank transfer was made to an intermediary of the navy, two detained crew members said.
Abdullah, the Indonesian naval officer, said crew members were not arrested.
“During the legal process, all the crew members of the ships were on their ships, except for an interrogation at the naval base. After the interrogation, they were returned to the ships,” he said.
Stephen Askins, a London-based maritime lawyer who has advised owners whose ships have been detained in Indonesia, said the navy has the right to protect its waters but if a ship has been detained, then some form of prosecution should follow.
“In a situation where the Indonesian navy appears to be detaining ships with intent to extort money, it is difficult to see how such an arrest could be legal,” Askins told Reuters in an email. He refused to give details about his clients.
Lt. Col. La Ode Muhamad Holib, a spokesman for the Indonesian navy, told Reuters in a written response to questions that a number of ships detained in the past three months had been released without charge due to insufficient evidence.
Five ship captains were prosecuted and two others were given short prison sentences and fined Rs 100 crore ($ 7,000) and Rs 25 crore, respectively, Holib said, declining to deepen the specific cases.
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