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‘Stolen oil’ row: Tanker operators appeal to UN for crew’s release

‘Stolen oil’ row: Tanker operators appeal to UN for crew’s release
Michael Firn August 27, 2021

The operators of an oil tanker seized by the Indonesian Navy with a cargo of Cambodian oil say they will “resort to diplomatic channels and the UN Human Rights Office” to free the crew.

The MT Strovolos, flying the flag of the Bahamas, was reportedly picked up off the coast of Sumatra on July 27 after Cambodia issued an Interpol red notice. The government says the 290,000 barrels of oil on the tanker belong to Cambodia.

Indonesia’s navy said it was questioning the crew of 13 Indians, three Bangladeshis and three Burmese.

World Tankers Management (WTM), operators of the Strovolos, issued a statement denying claims the crew were loading barrels of crude illegally without permission to anchor in Indonesian waters.

“We also wish to highlight the impact on humanitarian issues of the approach taken by Cambodian and Indonesian authorities, where wrongful allegations made against the crew have resulted in refusals to enable a lawful crew change,” they said.

WTM said it believed the cargo belonged to the charterers of the Strovolos, who it claims failed to pay for the hire of the vessels or supply it with fuel when levels were critically low.

“The charterer’s default meant that we and the crew had no realistic choice but to sail the vessel to the nearest appropriate port, Map Ta Phut, Thailand, to refuel for the safety of the crew, ship and the cargo. While the vessel was there, we tried to undertake a crew change as many of the crew had remained on board since September 2020 and they [were] required to sign off and return home to their families. In the meantime, the charter was terminated and the vessel was withdrawn from its chartered service,” it said.

WTM said the Royal Thai Navy boarded the Strovolos at the request of the Cambodian government but, after lawyers, the International Maritime Organization and the Bahamas Maritime Authority intervened, the navy agreed to allow the vessel to sail to Batam to change crew. It says Cambodia was made aware of the plan

The vessel’s operators said they had asked the owners of the oil to remove it by ship-to-ship transfer at a convenient and practical location, but no agreement was reached.

“Regrettably the vessel and the crew have been subject to unfair and unreasonable interference by and at the behest of the Cambodian government and this has caused the crew immense distress and suffering,” WTM said.

WTM denies that the vessel did not have permission to anchor in Indonesian waters.

“It seems that a key factor why the vessel was targeted was because of the wrongful allegations made by the Cambodian government that the vessel and its crew had committed criminal offences in relation to the vessel’s departure from the Apsara field to refuel,” it said.

“We have been informed that Cambodian authorities have made an application to Interpol and the Cambodian government is allegedly requesting that the crew be extradited to Cambodia. We now fear for the well-being and health of our crew.”

The oil was pumped from the Apsara oil field – Block A of Cambodia’s offshore oil fields – in a project 95 percent owned by Singapore’s KrisEnergy with 5 percent belonging to the Cambodian government. KrisEnergy has been declared insolvent after saying it could not repay its debts.

“Our crew are entirely innocent and blameless in this matter and should not come to bear the brunt of commercial and political issues. The human rights of our crew are paramount and all parties involved in this matter, including the Cambodian and Indonesian authorities, should recognise and respect this,” WTM said.

The 183-metre ship had turned off its identification system and anchored illegally in the archipelago’s waters, naval authorities said.

Its Bangladeshi captain could face up to a year in prison and a $14,000 fine if convicted on maritime violation charges, they added.

“The Indonesian navy will not hesitate to take action against any type of crimes committed within Indonesia’s jurisdictional territory,” First Fleet commander Arsyad Abdullah said in a statement.

Prior to WTM issuing its statement, Cheap Sour, director-general of petroleum at the Cambodian Ministry of Mines and Energy had said, “The company… reported to our government that the tanker [crew] stole the oil”. Khmer Times later showed him a copy of the statement and asked for a response to its allegations of human rights violations but he declined to comment.