Indonesia seizes alleged slave ship after Interpol tip-off

Indonesian military guarding the crew of the alleged "slave ship", who are believed to have been forced to work without pay, at the naval port of Sabang in Aceh province. Last Friday, the boat was captured following a dramatic high seas chase after t
Indonesian military guarding the crew of the alleged "slave ship", who are believed to have been forced to work without pay, at the naval port of Sabang in Aceh province. Last Friday, the boat was captured following a dramatic high seas chase after the vessel escaped capture in China and Mozambique, the authorities said.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA • Indonesia seized an alleged "slave ship" following a dramatic high seas chase sparked by an Interpol alert after the vessel escaped capture in China and Mozambique, the authorities said yesterday.

Interpol tipped off the Indonesian authorities that the stateless STS-50, a vessel with a notorious maritime rap sheet, would be entering the South-east Asian nation's waters, with the authorities concerned the crew were being forced to work.

The boat, captured last Friday some 95km from Weh Island in Aceh province, had 20 Indonesians, two Ukrainians and eight Russians aboard, including the captain, a senior navy official said.

The crew have been detained and are now being questioned.

The Indonesian sailors said they were not paid and that their passports and other documents had been taken away as soon as they boarded the ship nearly a year ago, the Indonesian navy said.

"These Indonesians had been sailing for 10 months without being paid, so that's why we suspect there was slavery happening," Indonesian navy deputy chief Achmad Taufiqoerrochman said.

The 258m-long vessel, which was flying the flag of tiny African nation Togo, has previously flown flags from a string of countries, including Japan, South Korea and Mozambique, the authorities said.

It was on the run after escaping detention in China and fleeing seizure in Mozambique.

Before it was caught in Indonesia, the vessel used several other names, including Sea Breeze, Andrey Dolgov and Aida, according to the Fisheries Ministry.

The vessel was equipped with some 600 gillnets - banned in some waters - targeting cod species and Antarctic toothfish.

It is also suspected of involvement in "organised transnational crime", the ministry added without elaborating.

Two years ago, Indonesian warships detained a Chinese trawler wanted by Interpol in Argentina.

Jakarta has launched a tough crackdown on illegal fishing, which involves sinking foreign vessels caught fishing without a permit after impounding the boats and removing the crew.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2018, with the headline 'Indonesia seizes alleged slave ship after Interpol tip-off'. Print Edition | Subscribe