Chinese, Iranian Tanker Captains Convicted for Illegal Oil Transfer in Indonesian Waters

Arie Firdaus
Jakarta
2021-05-25
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Chinese, Iranian Tanker Captains Convicted for Illegal Oil Transfer in Indonesian Waters An Indonesian coast guard ship escorts the Iranian-flagged oil tanker MT Horse (top left) toward Batam Island in Indonesia, Jan. 26, 2021.
Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (BAKAMLA) via AP

An Indonesian court on Tuesday found two oil-tanker captains from China and Iran guilty of violating the Southeast Asian country’s navigational rules by carrying out an unauthorized ship-to-ship petroleum transfer in January, but suspended their one-year prison sentences.

Chen Yo Qun, captain of the Panama-flagged MT Freya, and Mehdi Monghasemjahromi, captain of the Iranian-flagged MT Horse, will not have to serve time in prison unless they commit a similar offense during the next two years, the Batam District Court ruled.   

It also ordered Chen to pay a fine of 2 billion rupiah (U.S. $140,000) for dumping oil in Indonesia’s territorial waters.

Chen and Monghasemjahromi had violated navigational rules by entering Indonesia’s waters without a permit, Chief Judge David Sitorus said in a court session broadcast on YouTube.

He said Chen “was proven to have committed the crime of dumping waste without a permit,” thereby violating a 2009 law on environmental protection.

The two defendants said they accepted the verdicts and would not appeal, defense lawyers said.

Elindo Saragih, Monghasemjahromi’s attorney, said his client was not aware that the oil transfer took place in Indonesian waters off West Kalimantan, a province on Borneo Island.

Monghasemjahromi, who was accompanied by Iranian embassy officials during the trial, which began late last month, will be released and handed over to his agent to allow him to arrange for a sailing permit, according to his lawyer.

On Jan. 24, Indonesia’s coast guard intercepted and seized the two foreign ships after detecting that the tankers’ identification systems were turned off near West Kalimantan, and discovered that a suspected illegal transfer was under way, authorities said at the time.

At least 30 Iranian nationals crewed the Horse, while 25 Chinese nationals crewed the Freya, officials said. The Panama-flagged tanker is owned and managed by a firm listed as the Shanghai Future Ship Management Co., according to information from MarineTraffic.com.

The crews of both ships have already been released and repatriated.

‘Case is the tip of the iceberg’

According to the latest information posted online by MarineTraffic.com, the MT Freya and the MT Horse were still anchored in Indonesian waters in and around Batam, an island near Singapore, on Tuesday. 

Violations allegedly committed by both tankers in January included transferring oil ship-to-ship, concealing the tankers’ origin, turning off their automatic identification systems (AIS), and spilling oil, the Transportation Ministry said back in February.

Tehran, for its part, has been accused in recent years of violating U.S. sanctions on its oil exports by hiding the international movements of its tankers through turning off their automatic identification systems.

The head of Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla), Vice Adm. Aan Kurnia, said the two tankers had trespassed 25 nautical miles into territorial waters when they were caught.

Bakamla, the Indonesian coast guard, said it had become more vigilant after a Chinese survey ship went through Indonesia’s exclusive economic in January with its AIS turned off.

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 is the only nation that has designated archipelagic sea lanes.

“This case is the tip of the iceberg. Illegal actions are difficult to monitor due to limited technology and boats,” Raja Oloan Saut Gurning, a maritime expert at the Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS) in Surabaya, told BenarNews.

“This should be a lesson for Indonesia, that in the future our territorial waters can be better monitored,” he said.

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