Shipowners 'made $300,000 payoffs' to free vessels held by Indonesian navy

Crew and maritime security officials say payments were either made in cash to naval officers or via bank transfer to intermediaries

The Singapore Strait is one of the busiest waterways in the world. Reuters

More than 12 shipowners have reportedly made payments of $300,000 each to release vessels detained by the Indonesian navy, which said the ships were anchored illegally in the country's waters near Singapore.

Shipowners, crew and maritime security officials involved in the detentions and payments said the money was paid either in cash to naval officers or via bank transfer to intermediaries who told them they represented the Indonesian navy.

Reports of the payments were denied by an Indonesian naval fleet commander. It was not clear whether payments were made to naval officers, or who the final recipients of the payments were, Reuters reported.

The detentions and payments were first reported by Lloyd's List Intelligence, an industry website.

Admiral Arsyad Abdullah, the Indonesian naval fleet commander for the region, said in a written response to Reuters that no payments were made to the navy and also that it did not employ any intermediaries in legal cases.

“It is not true that the Indonesian navy received or asked for payment to release the ships,” he said.

Over the past three months, there has been an increasing number of detentions of ships accused of anchoring without permission in Indonesian waters, deviating from their sailing route or stopping midcourse for an unreasonable amount of time. All the detentions were in accordance with Indonesian law, Admiral Abdullah said.

Crowded waterway

The Singapore Strait, one of the busiest waterways in the world, is crowded with vessels waiting for days or weeks to dock at Singapore, a regional shipping centre where the Covid-19 pandemic has led to long delays.

Ships have, for years, anchored in waters to the east of the Strait while they wait to port, believing they were in international waters and therefore not responsible for any port fees, two maritime analysts and two shipowners said.

The Indonesian navy says this area comes within its territorial waters and it intends to crack down harder on vessels anchoring there without a licence.

A representative for the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, a government agency, declined to comment.

Updated: November 14th 2021, 6:32 AM