JAKARTA - Indonesian authorities said a fishing boat carrying a record 1.6 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine that it had intercepted in the vicinity of the Riau Islands on Tuesday (Feb 20) was falsely flying the Singapore flag.
It is the second drug-loaded vessel caught this month by Indonesian authorities to be flying under such a subterfuge.
This latest boat was captured on Tuesday at 2am near Helen Mar Reef, near Singapore Strait, by a maritime police and customs office joint patrol.
It had come from Taiwan and was carrying crystal methamphetamine in rice sacks. All four crew members were Chinese nationals, according to a joint statement from the police and customs office.
"The drugs were stuffed in 81 rice sacks and each sack contained 20kg," the statement said, listing the names of the Chinese nationals as Tan Mai, 69, Tan Yi, 33, Tan Hui (captain), 42, and Liu Yin Hua, 63.
On Feb 7, the Indonesian navy captured a Singapore-flagged fishing boat loaded with one tonne of crystal methamphetamine in 41 rice sacks off the waters of Batam island. The crew of four Taiwanese could not show proper vessel registration documents and a Taiwanese flag was also discovered on board.
Responding to that seizure, Singapore's Central Narcotics Bureau said on Feb 12: "The boat is not a Singapore-registered boat. It is registered in Kaoshiung, Taiwan, as Shun De Man No.66. Preliminary investigations by the Indonesian authorities show that at the time of interception, the Taiwanese syndicate had used the fictitious name Sunrise Glory for the boat and falsely flown the Singapore flag."
The crackdown on trafficking by the Indonesian government comes amid soaring consumption of illicit narcotics.
In January, Indonesian police and Customs officers also intercepted a 66kg shipment of the same type of drug, also known by its street name of shabu-shabu or Ice. Police said then that the drugs were being shipped from Singapore, the transit point, to Batam by sea and would later be flown to Jakarta by air.
Indonesia already has some of the world's toughest drug laws and remains one of 33 countries that enforce capital punishment for drug-related offences.
But the country has struggled to contain the drug problem, with officials estimating that there are at least 1.2 million drug abusers in the country, which has a population of more than 250 million. Ecstasy, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine are the drugs of choice for substance abusers in Indonesia, similar to the trend in many other countries in the region.