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Tanker Crew Caught in the Middle After Cambodia's Offshore Oil Debacle

tanker crew
strovolosIndonesian Navy personnel aboard the Strovolos (TNI-AL)

Published Sep 27, 2021 2:22 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Indonesian Marine Police have boarded the tanker Strovolos and arrested the crew in connection with a dispute over Cambodian oil, according to operator World Tankers Management. 

The Strovolos was first detained in July at a position off Sumatra. She had anchored without prior authorization (a potentially illegal act in Indonesian waters) and she had turned off her AIS system, the Indonesian Navy alleged. 

Strovolos had arrived in Indonesia after a charter went wrong. She had been chartered by Singaporean firm KrisEnergy to support an attempt to produce oil from a field in the Cambodian sector of the Gulf of Thailand. KrisEnergy began production at the field in December 2020 with a "phase 1A" small-scale pilot, hoping to achieve 7,500 barrels per day. The actual output fell far short of that mark, and in June, just six months after starting up, KrisEnergy folded and filed for liquidation. It was the beginning and the end of Cambodia's first venture in offshore oil and gas. 

During the course of these events, Strovolos began to run short of fuel. The master contacted KrisEnergy to make arrangements for bunkering, but KrisEnergy responded that it could not pay the vessel's hire, according to World Tankers.

For the safety of the crew, the cargo and the vessel, Strovolos sailed to the nearest convenient port to refuel, the firm said. She then headed south to Batam, Indonesia to carry out a long-awaited crew change. 

Meanwhile, the Cambodian government became outraged to learn that a cargo of the first-ever Cambodian offshore oil had sailed away. On July 24, Cambodian officials sent a diplomatic note to the Indonesian government, asking for its help in arresting the tanker for oil theft; an Indonesian patrol vessel carried out the intercept and arrest shortly after, and Strovolos has been detained near Batam ever since.

World Tankers vigorously denies that any theft occurred, and it is awaiting proper proof of ownership and proper payment before releasing the cargo to any party. Over the last two months, according to World Tankers, the Cambodian government has been negotiating with KrisEnergy over who owns the oil. Those negotiations may not be going well, and World Tankers is concerned that Cambodia is using its diplomatic contacts in Indonesia to put pressure on the crew instead.

In the early hours of Friday morning, the Indonesian Marine Police boarded the vessel and placed the crew under arrest. They are in detention and are being "interrogated ashore in shifts," the operator said in a statement. 

"World Tankers believes the Government of Cambodia has failed to resolve matters with KrisEnergy and is now adopting the unpleasant and unethical tactic of trying to use [Indonesian government contacts] to coerce the owners to accept their claims without proof or payment. This is totally unacceptable," the firm said. "The crew have far exceeded their contractual period of employment and are entitled to be repatriated to their families. All they have done is to perform their duties as seafarers in bringing the vessel, first to a safe place to refuel, and then to anchor off Batam to await the crew change."