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By Joe Brock (Reuters) – Indonesia’s head of the armed forces said on Friday that he is investigating a Reuters report that navy officers asked for a payment of $375,000 to release a fuel tanker detained last week on suspicion of anchoring illegally in its waters.
Navy officers at the Batam naval base, just south of Singapore, requested the unofficial payment to release the Nord Joy fuel tanker, two security sources involved in the negotiations told Reuters.
The incident comes after Reuters reported a dozen similar detentions last year. In those cases, the ship owners made unofficial payments of about $300,000 each and the vessels detained by the Indonesian navy east of Singapore were released.
The navy confirmed that it had detained the Panama-flagged Nord Joy on May 30 on suspicion of anchoring in its waters without a permit but denied that any payment had been requested.
General Andika Perkasa, Commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, told Reuters in Singapore that he had already started investigating the allegations.
“It’s really embarrassing if it’s true,” Andika said on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s top security summit.
“I promise I’m going to make an inquiry and do an investigation,” he said, adding that he would encourage anyone with more information to come forward.
Earlier on Friday, Rear Admiral Arsyad Abdullah, the Indonesian naval fleet commander for the region, told media that no payments had been requested and that the Nord Joy was still being detained under investigation.
“Regarding the reports in the media that a navy soldier asked for $375,000 … this was not true,” Arsyad said at a media briefing held onboard the Nord Joy.
The navy has presented legal papers relating to the Nord Joy’s detention to the district attorney on Batam, an Indonesian island 20 miles south of Singapore, Arsyad said.
Introducing the man standing next to him as the captain of the Nord Joy, Arsyad asked him if he had been asked to pay money to have the vessel released. “No,” he replied.
Reuters has been unable to determine who owns Nord Joy. Synergy Group, the company based in Singapore that manages the vessel, said in a statement on Friday that they were “not aware of any demands for money by the Indonesian Navy in relation to the release of the vessel.”
On Thursday, Synergy Group did not respond to Reuters’ questions about the alleged payment request.
(Reporting by Joe Brock; Editing by Jon Boyle)
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