Singapore boat captain released after being detained in Indonesia for about 16 months

Singaporean Shoo Chiau Huat (wearing a black and white shirt) speaking to his interpreter and lawyer in court on May 3, 2017. Indonesia's Tanjung Pinang district court on Wednesday (May 3) dismissed the charge against the boat captain for sailing in Indonesia's waters without a permit. PHOTO: F. PANGESTU

JAKARTA - A Singapore boat captain arrested for illegal fishing in Indonesia was released on Tuesday (Aug 29) after being held in the country for some 16 months.

Mr Shoo Chiau Huat has been released from house-arrest in Tanjung Pinang, and is free to return home to Singapore, said local immigration authorities.

The latest development was confirmed by Mr Shoo's daughter and friends. "I'm glad that he is coming back," said his 28-year-old daughter Michelle, a human resource practitioner. "My mum and the rest of my family are relieved."

Mr Shoo's friend, housewife Moreen Tan, 58, said: "I'm just relieved and very happy for him. I hope he can have a new life."

Mr Shoo, 50, was first arrested for illegal fishing on April 16, 2016, in the waters of Tanjung Berakit, off Bintan island.

He was subsequently acquitted of illegal fishing in July the same year but remained in detention for immigration offences.

In January 2017, he pleaded guilty to entering Indonesia illegally and paid a 50 million rupiah (S$5,100) fine in March in the hope of being released.

But on April 4, he was charged for the third time - with sailing in Indonesia's waters without a permit under the country's shipping laws.

The illegal sailing charge was dismissed by a court on May 3, with the judge saying that it was contradictory to Indonesian laws to proceed against an offender on two different provisions under the same act.

At the time, immigration officials said the deportation process for Mr Shoo would begin only after a higher court rules on the prosecution's appeal against the illegal fishing charge.

While the Supreme Court had thrown out the prosecution's appeal on the illegal fishing charge on April 20, Mr Shoo remained under "house arrest" in Tanjung Pinang and was not allowed to return to Singapore.

This was because he had to wait for the High Court in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, to rule on an objection filed by prosecutors against a lower court's dismissal of a separate charge of sailing in Indonesian waters without a permit.

Officials from the Pekanbaru High Court could not be reached for comment, and it remains unclear if it has made a ruling on this charge.

Mr Shoo's release comes as Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, begins an official three-day visit to Medan, North Sumatra, and Batam, in the Riau Islands province.

His visit also comes ahead of the Indonesia-Singapore Leaders' Retreat to be held next Thursday(Sept 7) in Singapore, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Joko Widodo will celebrate 50 years of bilateral relations between their two countries.

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