It has been two months since the fall of Cambodia’s oil venture, now the attention has shifted to millions of dollars worth of oil that had been pumped from the country’s offshore concession before production had been halted. The focus is now on the vessel that has been seized by Indonesian authorities.
On Wednesday, Indonesia’s navy said that it had been able to take into its custody a Bahamian-flagged tanker named MT Strovolos, which per Cambodia is carrying about 300,000 barrels of crude that have been stolen from the country’s oil business.
The tanker had been “illegally” anchored in Indonesian waters, and its transponders had been turned off. It was reportedly loaded with about 297,686 barrels of crude.
The navy said that the tanker had been taken to a base located nearby. All those who were on board had been detained, including the crew members and the ship captain. The list included 13 Indians, three Bangladeshis (besides the captain), and three individuals of Myanmar.
World Tankers Management (WTM), the vessel’s Singapore-based operator, in its statement, denied that the oil had been loaded illegally. They strongly rejected the claim that it had not been permitted to anchor the ship in Indonesian waters.
The company also added that Cambodia’s “wrongful allegations” resulted in “humanitarian issues”. This is why it has been compelled to involve the UN and other such “diplomatic channels.”
This incident has also added a twist to the saga behind the untimely fall of Cambodia’s first oil venture.
Cambodia’s six-month stint as a crude oil producer experienced an unforeseen and unexpected end in June when the Singapore-traded well operator, KrisEnergy, had gone bankrupt. The company’s parent is currently facing liquidation proceedings.
In early August 2021, the spotlight finally turned to the fate of oil when Hun Sen, Cambodian Prime Minister, accused MT Strovolos, contracted by KrisEnergy, of fleeing with crude to Thai waters.
The company had requested the cargo owners to remove the oil via a ship-to-ship transfer. However, there had been no agreement to facilitate this.
When KrisEnergy had defaulted on payments, the tanker reportedly sailed to Thailand to undergo a refuelling and crew change. It was unsuccessful. After the incident, it set sail for Indonesia. During the vessel’s stop, it had been boarded by Thai authorities that acted on a request from its Cambodian counterparts.
The oil had been pumped from the oil field of Apsara – in a project 95% owned by Singapore’s KrisEnergy with 5% belonging to the government of Cambodia. KrisEnergy has been declared insolvent when it declared that it would be unable to repay debts.
Since 2014, KrisEnergy has been Cambodia’s primary hope of oil. The company had fetched from Chevron a controlling stake in the Block A concession. In 2017, it had signed an agreement with Cambodian authorities that had given the government a stake of about 5%.
Per the arrangement, Cambodia would have earned more than $500 million from the first phase of the project as oil prices were about $50 per barrel. However, production dropped significantly and indebted KrisEnergy heavily.
Arsyad Abdullah, the First Fleet commander, has reportedly said that the Indonesian navy will not be hesitant to take necessary actions against any crimes committed within the country’s (Indonesia’s) jurisdictional territory.