Malaysian Authorities Intercept Chinese and Vietnamese Oil Tankers

Nisha David, Hadi Azmi and Roni Toldanes
Kuala Lumpur and Washington
2019-12-12
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191212-MY-US-Chinese-ship1000.jpg A Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency boat patrols the waters off Langkawi island, April 2, 2018.
AFP

Two ships recently intercepted in Malaysian waters may have violated international sanctions in place to prevent oil trading with Iran and North Korea, according to reports, although Malaysian officials did not mention those sanctions in public statements about the incidents.

Malaysian maritime authorities have allowed one of the ships, an oil tanker managed by a Chinese state-owned shipping company, to proceed to its next destination, the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.

“In response to media queries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to confirm that the [MMEA] has on 10 December 2019 inspected a foreign registered vessel, which was found anchored in Malaysian waters off the coast of Pulau Penang,” the ministry said in statement Thursday.

“The inspection was carried out in line with the MMEA’s standard operating procedures,” it said, adding that the ship and its 25-member crew were en route to their next port of call.

The statement did not mention the Silvana III, but a ministry official told BenarNews it was referring to the Chinese ship.

“Yes, we were referring to the same vessel as reported by media,” said the official, who sought anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Malaysian maritime authorities had said earlier in a Facebook post that when the same ship was seen anchored about 40 nautical miles off Kuala Kurau, on the nation’s west coast, on Dec. 5, it did not lower its ladder and sailed away as the agency’s officers approached it to board, according to reports.

After conferring with their navy colleagues, MMEA officers determined the ship had no permit to anchor in the region, according to arxmaritime.com, which covers the shipping industry.

Maritime Commander Mohd Sharenliza bin Ghazali, the Kuala Kurau maritime zone director, asked local maritime authorities to locate and seize the ship as it had violated the nation’s merchant shipping laws, local reports said.

The maritime agency posted its statement on Facebook on Monday, but is has since been taken down.

A spokeswoman for MMEA told BenarNews the agency prematurely posted the statement on the social media platform.

“The incident was still being investigated. But since the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement, that will do,” the spokeswoman said. “We will not issue any statement on the matter.”

Silvana III, previously known as Tian Ma Zuo, is a crude-oil tanker managed by Kunlun Shipping Co. Ltd, according to records obtained from Equasis, a website that keeps shipping records of tankers and vessels.

On Sept. 25, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned the Kunlun Shipping Co., which has its offices in Hong Kong but operates out of its headquarters in Shanghai. The department alleged that the firm had been involved in the transport of oil from Iran in defiance of sanctions set in place by Washington in November 2018.

Lloyd’s List Intelligence, which provides global maritime data, said in a June 2019 report that Kunlun Shipping had been using a fleet of eight vessels which carry Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to ship propane and butane to flout U.S. sanctions on Iranian crude exports.

Several websites currently track ships through their Automatic Identification System, which relay signals to satellites, providing their position, route and speed.

But some ships involved in sanctions violations often turn off their AIS transponders while in the Middle East Gulf region and conducting ship-to-ship transfers in waters off Malaysia and the Maldives, the Lloyd’s List report said, citing intelligence data.

“The Iran-China LPG flows are in breach of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports,” it said.

Vietnamese tanker seized

In the southern state of Johor, meanwhile, MMEA officials told BenarNews on Thursday that they were holding a Vietnamese merchant ship, Viet Tin 01, after it was found drifting in Malaysian waters.

The oil tanker previously was spotted by online tracking websites near a North Korean port in February.

“We have contacted the vessel’s owners and had asked them to come forward to claim it. The investigation is still ongoing,” an MMEA spokeswoman told BenarNews on Thursday on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to the media.

Viet Tin 01, a Vietnam-flagged oil-products tanker whose home port is Ho Chi Minh City, may have breached U.N. sanctions on North Korea, according to the Maritime Executive, an online news platform for the shipping industry.

It said the ship was detected recently through its AIS in the port of Nampo while carrying 2,000 tons of gasoline.

Trading in petroleum products with North Korea generally is forbidden under international sanctions on the nation’s nuclear program.

U.N. Security Council resolutions were passed after Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests starting in 2006. The United States and its allies have reaffirmed the need to keep sanctions to North Korea to achieve its denuclearization.

Johor MMEA director Aminuddin Abdul Rashid said in a statement on Monday that a marine special task force had been deployed to board Viet Tin 01 after it was found off the coast of Kota Tinggi, northeast of the state.

Maritime authorities found a 61-year-old Vietnamese, the vessel’s chief engineer, on board, Aminuddin said.

“He told us the vessel has drifted from its original anchored point,” Aminuddin said. “Prior to that, all other crews had returned to their countries, including the captain.”

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