Indonesia seizes Iranian-flagged tanker suspected of illegally transporting oil Ship’s crew

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JAKARTA, July 11 (Reuters) – Indonesia’s Coast Guard said on Tuesday it had seized an Iranian-flagged supertanker suspected of being involved in illegal crude oil handling and announced a beefing up of sea patrols.

The MT Arman 114 was carrying 272,569 tons of light crude oil worth 4.6 trillion rupiah ($304 million) when it was seized last week, Indonesian authorities said.

The Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) was suspected on Friday of transferring oil to another ship without a permit, the Southeast Asian country’s maritime security agency said.

The ship was hijacked after it was sighted in Indonesia’s North Natuna Sea while conducting a ship-to-ship oil transfer with the Cameroonian-flagged vessel MTS Tinossaid the head of the agency, Aan Kurnia.

MT Arman spoofed their Automatic Identification System (AIS) to show that its position is in the Red Sea, but it’s actually here,” Aan told reporters.

“So it looks like they already had a malicious intent,” Aan said, adding that the ship also dumped oil into the sea, in violation of Indonesia’s environmental law.

The operators of the ships could not immediately be reached for comment.

Indonesia is seizing an Iranian-flagged tanker suspected of illegally handling oil in Indonesia's northern Natuna Sea
The Iranian-flagged Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), MT Arman 114, and the Cameroonian-flagged MT S Tinos were observed conducting a ship-to-ship oil transfer without authorization, according to the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla ), near Indonesia’s North Natuna Sea, Indonesia July 7, 2023 in this handout picture released July 11, 2023. Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla)/Handout via REUTERS

Along with the Arman, authorities arrested the Egyptian captain, 28 crew members and three passengers, who were the family of a security officer on board, the agency said.

After the two supertankers attempted to escape, authorities focused their pursuit on Arman and were aided by Malaysian authorities when the ship entered their waters, Aan said.

The Tinos should have been scrapped in 2018, he added. According to the Equasis shipping database, it was built in 1999 while the Arman was built in 1997.

Separate data on Equasis and data analysis companies maritime transport showed that one of the earlier names of the Arman 114 was Grace 1.

The grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marine commandos in July 2019 on suspicion of attempting to ship oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. It was released the following month after a diplomatic standoff with the West.

A “shadow” fleet of tankers transporting oil from sanctioned countries Iran, Russia and Venezuela have transhipped cargoes in the Singapore Strait to avoid detection, an analysis by Reuters showed this year.

The risk of oil spills and accidents is growing as hundreds more ships, some without insurance, have joined the opaque parallel trade in recent years.

Aan promised that the Indonesian Coast Guard would step up patrols in its waters with the support of other authorities. With around 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world.

“We have to be steadfast and tough,” he said. “There has to be a deterrent effect so that something like this doesn’t happen again.”

In 2021, following similar allegations, Indonesia seized Iranian- and Panamanian-flagged vessels. The captains of the two ships received a two-year suspended sentence from an Indonesian court.

($1=15,155,0000 rupiah)

(Reporting by Stefanno Sulaiman, Fransiska Nangoy, additional reporting by Jonathan Saul; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.

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