Senior Indonesian navy officers met with the media on Friday to deny reports of officers seeking payment from tankers held in Indonesian waters. On June 9, Reuters published reports for the second time that Indonesian naval officers were seeking payments of up to $375,000 to release tankers detained for illegally anchoring near Batam, an island 20 miles south of Singapore and home to the island nation’s naval base. .
“I have to say the news that a naval officer asked for US$375,000 is not true,” TNI Rear Admiral Arsyad Abdullah said. He met the media after visiting the tanker named in the Reuters report saying it had the authority to detain or release vessels based on information provided by investigators.
During the press conference, the Indonesian Navy presented Vivek Kumar who it said was the captain of the tanker norse joy. The captain also denied being asked for cash payment to release his vessel.
In its exclusive report published yesterday, Reuters said Indonesian naval officers had asked the norse joy for a cash payment of $375,000 to release the tanker. Reuters cited two unnamed people it said were involved in negotiations over the unofficial payments.
Typically, a detained ship can wait months for its case to be heard in Indonesian courts. Indonesia interviews the captain and crew and examines logbooks to determine the vessel’s purpose for anchorage. The case of a vessel found to have anchored illegally is referred to the criminal courts. A Navy spokesperson responding to the allegations said the maximum fine is around $14,000, but a captain of the ship can also face a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
Agents for the norse joy, a 49,874 dwt tanker registered in Panama, said the vessel 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 accosted by members of the Indonesian Navy. The vessel was then escorted to an anchorage near Batam Naval Base. The vessel remains there with the Indonesians reporting that the matter is being investigated, but early indications were that there was sufficient evidence that the vessel had anchored illegally and would be taken to court.
Reports of the alleged solicitation of cash payments first appeared in Lloyd’s List Intelligence and became the basis of a Reuters report in November 2021. The previous report said more than a dozen vessels had been invited to be paid in cash either to a naval officer or via bank transfer to intermediaries. Citing unnamed shipowners, crew and maritime security sources, Reuters said payments ranging from $250,000 to $300,000 had been demanded from the vessels. The report said around 30 vessels, including tankers, bulk carriers and a pipeline layer, were all detained over a three-month period, with most released after making the cash payments.
Speaking of policy, the Rear Admiral confirmed that Indonesia has stepped up 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 looking to drop anchor, perhaps to save fuel and the cost of anchoring near Singapore. He said Indonesia requires official permits to enter its waters or to anchor in these areas. He also denied reports that crews would be kept ashore in cramped and hot detention facilities, saying that once they are questioned they are returned to their ships.
Reuters suggests the ships are making the payments to avoid long detentions and lost revenue while awaiting their hearings.
“Of course, if the navy officers are found to have done this, then the navy will initiate legal proceedings in accordance with applicable regulations,” Arsyad said during his briefing. The Indonesian Navy said it was investigating the accusations in the media while repeating its claims that it was only protecting its sovereignty.