Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Crew Arrested After Dispute Over Ownership of Cargo of Crude Oil

Innocents Once Again Caught Up in Diplomatic Row
Shipping News Feature

INDONESIA – CAMBODIA – THAILAND – SINGAPORE – Mystery and controversy surrounds the arrest and detention of the crew of the Bahamian registered oil tanker Stravolos with regard to a protracted dispute concerning the tanker's crude oil cargo.

It is understood this police action followed an intervention by the Cambodian government which claims the cargo, oil extracted from the Apsara Oil Field in the Gulf of Thailand, was being transported illegally. The oil was extracted by a company, KrisEnergy (Apsara) Co. Ltd, which subsequently ran into financial difficulties during the charter agreement according to the tanker operator, World Tankers Management PTE Ltd, Singapore.

The vessel’s owners understood that the chartering company was contracted by the Government of Cambodia as part of a commercial oil development project and gave it the right to sell the oil subject to payment of royalties. Kris Energy allegedly then told the vessel’s owners that they were not only unable to pay for the hire, but there was no money for fuel. The operators say they decided it was safer, and to avoid any potential environmental problems, to sail to the nearest convenient port to refuel.

This action appears to have been interpreted as an attempt to escape with the cargo and led to the subsequent intervention of the authorities. The Cambodian government’s claims led to the arrests by the Indonesians with the crew reportedly remaining under detention and being interrogated ashore in shifts. The signs were there for the Cambodians well before however. Singapore listed KrisEnergy was called ‘a Zombie company on the verge of collapse’ as long ago as April.

The vessel’s owners say they understood that the chartering company was originally contracted by the Government of Cambodia as part of a commercial oil development projection and gave it the right to sell the oil subject to payment of royalties. They say the Government of Cambodia has not provided any proof to the Owners to support its claim that it owns the cargo on board the vessel. KrisEnergy told the Owners that they objected to the cargo being released to the Government of Cambodia as that would be contrary to their ownership rights.

World Tankers Management says the charter was terminated due to the charterers' breaches of key obligations and, as a matter of law, the vessel was under no obligation to return to Apsara. It says legally, whoever proves ownership and the right to sell the cargo (to the Owners' satisfaction or as may be determined by the appropriate Court if there is a dispute about ownership) is obliged to make arrangements to offload it upon payment of the sums owed to the Owners.

There appear to be ongoing discussions between the Government of Cambodia, KrisEnergy and KrisEnergy's Receivers to come to an agreement about the sale of the oil on board the vessel and the payments duly claimed by the Owners. World Tankers Management issued a statement saying:

“While waiting for a resolution of the dispute, the Owners and the crew have taken proper care of the cargo at considerable expense and want nothing more than for it to be offloaded by mutual agreement as soon as is practical. In the meantime, they moved the vessel offshore of Batam pending a long-awaited crew change.

“The crew have far exceeded their contractual period of employment and are entitled to be repatriated to their families. All they have done is to perform their duties as seafarers in bringing the vessel, first to a safe place to refuel, and then to anchor off Batam to await the crew change.

”There has never been any intention or suggestion that anything would be done with the oil on board other than to offload it as soon as its ownership is proved, and agreement is reached about payment to the Owners of the money which they are owed.

”The Government has not proven to Owners its claim that it owns the oil on board the vessel and no agreement has been reached with KrisEnergy about payment of the money owed to the Owners. Neither have Kris Energy revoked their statement that they object to the oil being released to the Government of Cambodia.

”World Tankers believes the Government of Cambodia has failed to resolve matters with KrisEnergy and is now adopting the unpleasant and unethical tactic of trying to use the Request for Assistance to coerce the Owners to accept their claims without proof or payment. This is totally unacceptable. The Owners are forced now to raise their deep concern, at the highest governmental and diplomatic levels, that this conduct violates the human rights of an innocent crew.

”The Owners have grave concern that there would not be due and proper process and a fair trial in Cambodia. This concern stems from the fact that the Prime Minster of Cambodia and his Ministers have made public statements saying the crew are guilty of theft, which is inappropriate and contrary to the basic principle of justice.

”The Owners hope and expect the Indonesian Government rightly, and in accordance with local and international principles of justice, to reject the Request for Assistance and to order the immediate release of the crew so that they may freely go home to their families.”