China Reaches Out to Indonesia, Seeks Details of Detained Ship Crews



Mahinda Arkyasa

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - China stated on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, that the country was seeking details about 25 of its nationals who were among the 61 crews on two supertankers seized by Indonesia under suspicion of illegally transferring oil.

    The Indonesian government said on Sunday, January 24, 2021, that it had seized the vessels after they were detected making an illegal transfer of oil from Iranian-flagged MT Horse to Panamanian-flagged MT Freya. The suspected crime had also caused an oil spill.

    Indonesian authorities said that the seizure was not related to US sanctions, which were imposed by Washington in an attempt to shut off Iran's oil exports in relation to a dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.

    The MT Horse, owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company, and MT Freya, managed by Shanghai Future Ship Management Co, were detected off Indonesia's Kalimantan Island.

    A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian said that 25 of the ship's crew members were Chinese. However, Zhao did not specify whether the Chinese crews were all aboard one vessel or split between both.

    "Our embassy has expressed concern to Indonesia," Zhao said, as quoted by Reuters. "We urged them to verify the situation about the Chinese seamen as soon as possible and inform us formally."

    Zhao said that China has requested the Indonesian government to conduct an investigation "fairly and in accordance with the law".

    Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah, as quoted by Reuters, stated that there had been "initial communication" with China and Iran. He added that further discussion would depend on the results of the investigation.

    In response to the incident, Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Monday, January 25, 2021, that the seizure of its tanker was related to a technical issue and that its government had asked Indonesia to provide more details on the matter.

    Iran however, has been accused of attempting to disguise the destination of its oil sales by disabling the vessel's tracking system.

    Indonesian authorities said that the ship concealed its identity by not flying its national flags, turning off its automatic identification systems, and failing to respond to a radio call.

    The International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires ships to use transponders for safety and transparency, although crews are allowed to turn off the devices in the presence of the danger of piracy or similar hazards.

    "We welcome the Indonesian Coast Guard efforts to counter illicit maritime activity," a US embassy spokesman in Jakarta said as quoted by Reuters. The spokesman also said that Washington supported efforts made to ensure IMO standards for safety and environmental were upheld.