Indonesian Navy Denies Seeking Cash Payment from Detained Tanker

Indonesian Navy accused of seeking cash from tanker
Indonesian Navy is accused of seeking cash payments from vessels anchoring outside the Singapore Strait (file photo)

Published Jun 10, 2022 2:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Senior officers of the Indonesian Navy met with the media on Friday to deny reports of officers soliciting payments from tankers being detained in Indonesia waters. Reuters on June 9 published for the second time reports that officers from the Indonesian Navy were asking for payments of up to $375,000 to release tankers being detained for illegally anchoring near Batam, an island 20 miles south of Singapore and home to the island nation’s naval base.

"I need to convey that the news that says that a Navy officer asked for 375 thousand US dollars is not true,” said Rear Admiral TNI Arsyad Abdullah. He met with the media after visiting the crude oil tanker named in the Reuters report saying that it was his authority to detain or release vessels based on information provided by investigators.

During the press conference, the Indonesia Navy presented Vivek Kumar who it said was captain of the tanker Nord Joy. The captain also denied having been asked for a cash payment to release his vessel.

In its exclusive report released yesterday, Reuters said that Indonesia naval officers asked the Nord Joy for a cash payment of $375,000 to release the tanker. Reuters cited two unnamed individuals that it said were involved in negotiations over the unofficial payments.

Typically, a vessel that is detained can wait months for its case to be heard in the Indonesian courts. Indonesia interviews the captain and crew and reviews logs to determine the vessel’s purpose for anchoring. The case of a vessel that is found to have anchored illegally is referred to the criminal courts. A navy spokesperson responding to the allegations said that the maximum fine is approximately $14,000 but a captain of the vessel can also face a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

Agents for the Nord Joy, a 49,874 dwt tanker registered in Panama, said the vessel had anchored east of the busy Singapore Strait on May 26. They said the captain believed he was in international waters but on May 30 they were boarded by members of the Indonesia Navy. The vessel was later escorted to an anchorage near the Batam naval base. The vessel remains there with the Indonesians reporting the case is under investigation but initial indications were that there was sufficient evidence that the vessel had illegally anchored and would be prosecuted in the courts. 

Reports of the alleged soliciting of cash payments first appeared in Lloyd’s List Intelligence and became the basis for a report by Reuters in November 2021. The earlier report said that more than a dozen vessels have been asked for cash payments either to a naval officer or via wire transfer to intermediaries. Citing unnamed shipowners, crew, and maritime security sources, Reuters said that vessels were asked for payments ranging from $250,000 to $300,000. The report said around 30 ships, including tankers, bulk carriers, and a pipeline layer, had all been detained over a three-month period with most being released after making the cash payments.

Speaking about the policy, the Rear Admiral confirmed that Indonesia has increased its enforcement efforts in recent months of its territorial waters. He suggested that ships waiting for space in Singapore often leave the busy shipping channel seeking to anchor possibly to save fuel and the cost of anchoring near Singapore. He said Indonesia requires official permits to enter its waters or to anchor in those areas. He also denied reports that crews are kept on shore in cramped and hot detention facilities, saying once they are interviewed, they are returned to their ships.

Reuters suggests that the ships are making the payments to avoid long detentions and lost revenues awaiting their court hearings.

"Of course, if it is found that the Navy officers have been proven to have done this, then the Navy will carry out legal processes in accordance with applicable regulations," said Arsyad during his briefing. The Indonesia Navy said it is investigating the accusations in the media reports while repeating its assertions that it is only protecting its sovereignty.