Indonesia Detains Tanker Crew In International Dispute Over Oil Cargo

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JAKARTA – Indonesia, Cambodia, and a Bahamas-flagged oil tanker are embroiled in a quarrel over nearly 300,000 barrels of crude oil that Phnom Penh alleges was stolen by the ship’s crew.

Last week, an Indonesian court sentenced the captain of the M.T. Strovolos to 15 days in prison for anchoring his ship in local waters without permission. A few days later, Jakarta detained the tanker’s 19 other crew members for questioning on Batam Island, in response to an Interpol red notice issued by Cambodia.

Harry Goldenhardt, the spokesman for the Riau Islands provincial police, said a team from the National Central Bureau-Interpol had been questioning the tanker’s crew members since Saturday.

“It’s based on the red notice by the Cambodian government and a letter sent by the Phnom Penh Court requesting assistance in the arrest and return of the ship and its crew,” Harry told BenarNews.

On Monday, the Singapore-based company that owns the ship said Cambodia’s claim that the oil cargo was transported illegally was “without foundation,” and urged Indonesia to reject Phnom Penh’s request for assistance.

On Sept. 22, when the Batam District Court convicted Sazzedeen S.M., the Bangladeshi captain of the Strovolos, it also fined him 100 million rupiahs (the U.S. $7,000), according to a court document of the ruling obtained by BenarNews.

“Defendant Sazzedeen S.M has been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing a criminal act,” the document said, adding that Sazzedeen must serve an additional month in prison if he failed to pay the fine.

“The defendant failed to comply with navigational procedures in Indonesian territorial waters and potentially endangered traffic in the waters,” the court said.

The Indonesian Navy said that the 600-foot Strovolos was illegally anchored off Sumatra, with its identification system turned off, when authorities seized it on July 27, three days after Phnom Penh issued the red notice about the alleged cargo theft.

An Indonesian warship, the KRI John Lie-358, intercepted the tanker near the Anambas Islands, a chain located in Riau Islands province after the Strovolos had sailed into Indonesian waters in the South China Sea without permission, the navy added.