Stolen Oil Tanker Saga ‘Neither Political nor Commercial,’ Gov’t Says

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Prime Minister Hun Sen points on a map to Cambodia’s Block A offshore oil concession, where KrisEnergy has extracted the nation’s first drops of oil, in a photo posted to his Facebook page on December 29, 2020.

A tanker company says it is concerned over its arrested crew’s human rights as Cambodia pursues the return of some 300,000 barrels of allegedly stolen crude oil, but the government said the matters will simply “take their legal course” and are “neither political nor commercial.”

The M.T. Strovolos left Cambodian waters in June as KrisEnergy, drilling for oil in the offshore Apsara block, proceeded toward liquidation. KrisEnergy extracted Cambodia’s first block of oil in December only to find yields below expectations, and its history of debt troubles compounding to make the operations unsustainable.

According to a statement issued by the Mines and Energy Ministry on Friday, the Strovolos departed Cambodia without notifying authorities, and its identification system was turned on and off as it sailed to Thailand and eventually to Indonesia, where it was seized in late August. Prosecution against the nearly 20 crew members is underway in Indonesia.

“Since her unlawful departure, the vessel has made no attempt to return to Cambodian waters nor has she taken any steps to return the cargo of crude oil,” the statement says. The government is seeking help from Indonesian authorities “to bring the perpetrators and their accomplices to justice,” the statement says, and have the approximately $20-million of crude oil returned.

The tanker company, World Tankers Management, however, said last week that many of the crew had been on board since September, and they merely wanted to refuel and change crew.

“Our crew are entirely innocent and blameless in this matter and should not come to bear the brunt of commercial and political issues,” the company said in a statement. “The human rights of our crew are paramount and all parties involved in this matter, including the Cambodian and Indonesian authorities, should recognise and respect this.”

“As a result of this situation, we now have no choice but to involve diplomatic channels and the UN Human Rights Office,” World Tankers Management said, adding that it never had any intention of misappropriating the cargo, but the company must be “paid the sums owed to us” before it is offloaded.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Friday that the point was that the crude oil “still belonged to the Cambodian government.”

“We issued diplomatic letters to all countries on that coastline and it was stopped in Indonesia,” Siphan said. “We are processing documents to ask [the oil] be sent to us.”

There may have been bad weather and the ship needed a safe place to swap its crew and restock, but it left without asking permission and needed to return the cargo, he said.

The government didn’t know yet exactly what would be done with the oil, “but we need to confiscate it back because it is still the government’s property,” Siphan said.


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