Malaysian authorities detain 31 seafarers over suspected illicit oil transfers

A member of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency poses with a weapon on board a rigid hull fender boat in Malacca. Credit: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Thirty-one seafarers have been detained by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) to assist in investigations on 6 October, after a cargo ship and an oil tanker were allegedly caught engaging in illegal oil transfers.

The director of the MMEA’s Tanjung Sedili branch, Mohd Zulfadli Nayan, said in a press briefing that the raid was carried out in operations Jaksa and Benteng Laut at about 2 pm local time. The errant vessels, whose names were withheld, were situated 26 km from Tanjung Kelesa along the east coast of Johor.

Zulfadli said that the Indonesia-flagged cargo ship was manned with 23 Indonesian crew members, while the Malaysia-flagged tanker had six Indonesian seafarers and two Singaporean crew members. The crew members are aged between 21 and 53 years old.

Zulfadli also noted that the investigation will be focussed on Section 491B(1)(L) (anchoring without permission) and Section 491B(1)(K) (illegal oil transport) of the Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952. Convictions will result in a fine of up to MYR100,000 (USD24,053) or an imprisonment of a maximum of two years, or both.

SAS reported in January that the MMEA has been actively clamping down on ships that are suspected of contravening the rules in Malaysian waters. According to Ridzwan Rahmat, principle defence analyst at Janes, the move is seen as a way for Malaysia’s de facto coastguard to justify its operating budget.

Just days before the raid, MMEA officials met with their counterparts from the navy and customs department from 28 to 29 September, to discuss integrating operations to deter criminal activity in Malaysian waters.