Indonesia Releases Iranian, Panamanian Tankers Intercepted in Illegal Oil Transfer at Sea

Tria Dianti
Jakarta
2021-05-29
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Indonesia Releases Iranian, Panamanian Tankers Intercepted in Illegal Oil Transfer at Sea This undated handout photo released by the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) on May 29, 2021 shows crew members (center) of the Iranian tanker MT Horse boarding their ship off the Riau Islands before leaving Indonesian waters.
[Handout/Indonesian Maritime Security Agency/AFP]

Indonesia released two oil-tanker captains from China and Iran as well as their vessels, days after a court convicted them for carrying out an unauthorized ship-to-ship petroleum transfer in Indonesian waters four months ago, the coast guard said Saturday.

The Panama-flagged MT Freya and the Iranian-flagged MT Horse crude-oil tankers set sail from Indonesian waters with both captains aboard, Adm. Aan Kurni, the commander of Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla), told BenarNews.

“They returned to their home countries on Friday,” he said.

A Bakamla ship, the KN Pulau Dana-323, escorted the foreign tankers and their captains as they departed Indonesian waters from Batu Ampar port, in Batam Island, Aan said.

On Tuesday, a court in Batam handed suspended sentences of one year each to Chinese national Chen Yo Qun, captain of the Freya, and Mehdi Monghasemjahromi, captain of the Horse, after finding them guilty of violating Indonesia’s navigational rules by conducting an oil transfer at sea without a permit in late January.

The Indonesian coast guard seized the ships and their crews after catching them carrying out the operation in waters off West Kalimantan, an Indonesian province on Borneo Island.

The two captains will not have to serve time in prison unless they are caught committing a similar offense during the next two years, the court ruled on May 25.   

The court also ordered Captain Chen to pay a fine of 2 billion rupiah (U.S. $140,000) for dumping oil in territorial waters.

tankers-AP.jpg

In this file photo released by Indonesia’s coast guard on Jan. 24, 2021, the Panamanian-flagged MT Freya (left) and the Iranian-flagged MT Horse tankers are seen anchored together in Pontianak waters off Indonesian Borneo. [Indonesian Maritime Security Agency via AP]

On Jan. 24, Bakamla intercepted the two foreign ships after detecting that the tankers’ identification systems were turned off near West Kalimantan, and discovered that an illegal oil transfer was under way, authorities said then.

In February, Indonesian government officials said that the violations committed by both tankers included transferring oil ship-to-ship, concealing the vessels’ origin, turning off their automatic identification systems (AIS), and spilling oil.

Thirty-six 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.

“We were not involved in the court’s decision. What is clear is that the ships were found guilty, and it was the court’s decision that allowed them to return home,” Aan, the coast guard chief, said.

Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) confirmed on Saturday that the MT Horse, which is owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co., was released Friday after 125 days in Indonesian custody.

“The tanker resumed its mission and will return home once their mission is complete,” IRNA said.

An Indonesian attorney for Monghasemjahromi, Elindo Saragih, confirmed that his client had departed the country.

“They left Indonesia yesterday,” he said.

Iran 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.

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

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