The Jakarta Post
A gigantic Chinese-flagged hopper dredger was caught by the Indonesian Navy for allegedly scavenging valuable items from a shipwreck on Thursday.
Yet after arresting the dredger’s crew, the Navy only sent one personnel to guard the vessel. In less than six hours after the arrest, the vessel had fled the crime scene around Anambas Islands, Riau Islands province.
MV Chuan Hong 68 is a 8,352 gross ton vessel, measuring 122 meters in length and 32 m in width. The ship was allegedly caught carrying out the illegal activity at around 6:30 p.m. In response, four navy personnel were deployed to the ship and arrested 20 crew members, consisting of 16 Chinese citizens, three Indians and one Malaysian.
“Our resources are limited and the ship is huge. We secured the crew members first,” Navy deputy chief of staff Vice Adm. Achmad Taufieqoerroch-man said during a press conference at the residence of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti on Friday.
He added that after the arrests he had ordered a warship to go to the site to secure the dredger. While waiting for the military vessel to arrive, Achmad said a 12-meter-long boat owned by a local fisherman, with one Navy personnel on board, had been used to guard the dredger.
“The personnel was initially on board [the ship] but it was deemed dangerous as he was alone. So he waited on the fisherman’s boat anchored nearby.”
“When our warship eventually got to the location, the [Chinese-flagged] vessel was no longer there,” he said, adding that the vessel had fled north to the South China Sea.
Achmad added that there may have been crew members hiding in the vessel.
Susi said she believed the dredger had intended on taking the cargo of Swedish supertanker Seven Skies’ shipwreck, as it was identified at the exact location of the shipwreck. Seven Skies sank around the waters between Jemaja and Repong islands in Anambas in 1969, at a depth of 64 m.
She added that the location of the shipwreck was reportedly a popular diving site, with diving operators from Singapore and Malaysia often taking tourists to the site.
“The situation at the moment is that the position and control of the ship is unknown. What we have done is secure the crew. Warships and aircraft have been deployed to track it. We believe the ship has already entered international waters,” Minister Susi told journalists on Friday.
“With ships like these, usually their transponders are shut down. Their flag is not from their country of origin, that’s usually the case,” said Susi.
Achmad said 15 of the arrested crew members were being detained on Jemaja Island, while five were on Tarempa Island. “We will take them to Tarempa because in Jemaja we only have a small post,” he said.
Achmad added that the operation began after the Navy received information from local fishermen about a suspicious ship in the area. After the Navy personnel boarded the ship, they received information from the crew that the skipper was on the ground.
The location of the ship, Achmad said, was right on the Indonesian territorial sea border and that “within 30 minutes” the ship could reach international waters.
Achmad confirmed that, at the moment, authorities were only able to communicate with a Malaysian among the crew, while language barriers had prevented them from communicating with others.
“The Malaysian said the ship was of Chinese origin. But we do not have documents to prove it. We did not even find Chinese flag on board. We only found a Malaysian flag, which was not flown,”
Susi said her ministry would contact Interpol to seek help in locating the dredger. She added that the ministry had notified the Foreign Ministry about the capture of foreigners inside Indonesian territory. (mrc)