By Joe Brock
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – More than a dozen sailors have paid nearly $ 300,000 each to release Indonesian warships, which were said to be illegally landed in Indonesian waters near Singapore, according to sources.
The 12 sources include ship owners, co-workers and marine security guards all arrested and paid, allegedly handed over money to the navy or through a bank to mediators who told them they represented the Indonesian army.
Reuters could not confirm on its own whether the money had been donated to the navy or to the recipients of the money.
Detention and payment were first reported by Lloyd’s List Intelligence, a corporate website.
Behind Admiral Arsyad Abdullah, the Indonesian naval officer in the region, in response to Reuters questions that no payment had been made to the navy and that he had not used any mediator in the cases.
“It is not true that Indonesian navy received or solicited money to release the ships,” Abdullah said.
He added that there had been a number of arrests in the last three months due to unauthorized stops in Indonesian waters, diversions or long-term suspensions. All the arrests were in accordance with Indonesian law, Abdullah said.
The Singapore Strait, one of the busiest waters in the world, is loaded with ships waiting for days or weeks to reach Singapore, a museum where the COVID-19 epidemic has been delayed.
(Photo: Singapore Roads are one of the busiest people in the world – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/mypmnkaewvr/SingaporeWaterways.png)
Ships have been drowning for years east of the Strait as they wait for the port, believing they are in international waters and thus have no responsibility for any port fees, two maritime experts and two shipowners have said.
Indonesian navy says the region is coming to its shores and is trying to wreak havoc on ships that stop there without permission.
A spokesman for the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, a government agency, declined to comment.
About 30 ships, including tanks, bulk carriers and pipelines, have been detained by Indonesian troops in the past three months and most have been released after paying $ 250,000 to $ 300,000, according to the owners of two ships and two maritime security sources. concerned.
Making these payments is cheaper than wasting money on ships carrying expensive goods, such as oil or wheat, if they were detained for several months when a case was heard in an Indonesian court, the two ship owners said.
Two shipbuilders said the pilots approached the ships on their ships, boarded and escorted the ships to Batam or Bintan, the Indonesian islands of southern Singapore, across the Strait.
Navigators and co-workers are often confined to small, overcrowded, sometimes for several weeks, until shipowners arrange for cash to be paid or bank transfer to be handed over to a naval mediator, two detainees said.
Abdullah, the Indonesian navy chief, said the crew was not arrested.
“At the time of the law, all the crew members were on board, except for interrogation at the naval base. After the interrogation, they were sent back to the ships,” he said.
(Illustration: A series of ships built near Singapore and released by Indonesian authorities – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/dwvkrezolpm/VesselPathfromIndonesia.png)
Stephen Askins, a London-based lawyer who advised shipowners whose ships were detained in Indonesia, said the navy had a right to protect its waters but if the ship was built, then other cases should follow.
“At a time when Indonesian military appears to be building ships for the purpose of extorting money it is difficult to see how such a closure could be justified,” Askins told Reuters in an email. He declined to comment further on his clients.
Marine spokesman Lieutenant Colonel La Ode Muhamad Holib, a spokesman for the Indonesian military, told Reuters in response to questions that some ships built in the past three months had been released without charge due to insufficient evidence.
Five sailors were charged and two others were sentenced to life imprisonment and fined 100 million rupees ($ 7,000) and 25 million rupees, respectively, Holib said, declining to comment further on the charges.
($ 1 = 14,240 rupiah)