A Singaporean boat captain has been charged in a Tanjung Pinang District Court, seven months after he was first arrested for trespassing in Indonesian waters.
Ricky Tan Poh Hui was at the helm of the Malaysia-flagged vessel, the Seven Seas Conqueress, on Aug 20 last year, when he was stopped by the Indonesian navy - purportedly in waters off Bintan island.
Tan's three-member crew and nine passengers, mainly recreational anglers from Singapore, were released 12 days later, but the 45-year-old captain has remained in the custody of the navy ever since his arrest.
He is the second Singaporean boat captain after Shoo Chiau Huat from the vessel MV Selin, to have been detained for such an extended period in Tanjung Pinang by Indonesian authorities.
Yesterday was the first time Tan appeared in court to face charges for entering Indonesian waters without permission, and failing to maintain navigational equipment on board his boat, which is required under Indonesian shipping laws.
The equipment in the second charge refers to the automatic identification system (AIS) of a vessel, which tracks its position at sea.
Prosecutors said yesterday that the AIS of the Seven Seas Conqueress was "not functioning" when naval officers were inspecting the boat after it was stopped.
Tan did not take a plea but in a bid to expedite the hearing, his lawyer asked the court to proceed to hear evidence from witnesses.
Captain Azi Wardana, the commander of the naval patrol that first spotted the Seven Seas Conqueress on radar, told the court that the vessel was detected in Indonesian waters off Bintan and claimed Tan had tried to evade the navy by attempting to return to Singapore waters.
He also accused Tan of lying to his officers once the boat was stopped.
"At first (Tan) said the ship was damaged, but it could be operated and was later brought to Tanjung Pinang," said Mr Azi.
A member of Tan's crew, however, testified that their boat had broken down earlier.
"The boat's engines had stopped and we drifted at sea for about an hour," said Mr Agus.
Tan denied that he had tried to evade the naval patrol and said the AIS on the Seven Seas Conqueress was never turned off.
"I did not try to escape when approached by the navy," Tan told the court. "And the AIS was always in the 'on' position."
The hearing resumes next week.
MFA disputes charges
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday disputed the charges against boat captain Ricky Tan Poh Hui.
A ministry spokesman said in a statement issued after the hearing that the Seven Seas Conqueress, its crew and passengers were detained by the Indonesian authorities in Singapore waters off Pedra Branca.
He added that Singapore has strongly protested against the Indonesian government's actions.
"We have emphasised that there is no basis for Indonesia's detention of the vessel, its crew and passengers, nor for the continued detention of and purported charges brought against Mr Tan," he said.
"In addition, Singapore officials have communicated repeatedly with the relevant Indonesian authorities, at both the national and provincial level, to seek the immediate release of Mr Tan and the vessel, as well as the termination of any purported investigations against him."
MFA said that it immediately sought consular access to Tan once it learnt of his arrest, but that was granted only on Jan 24.
"MFA will persist in our efforts to secure the immediate release of Mr Tan and the vessel."
This article by The Straits Times was published in The New Paper, a free newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.