JAKARTA - Fishing boat captain Ricky Tan Poh Hui is free to return home to Singapore after he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months' probation on Wednesday (April 26) for trespassing in Indonesian waters in August last year.
The Tanjung Pinang District Court declared him a free man after slapping him with probation and a 5 million rupiah (S$524.50) fine, but agreed with the prosecution that if Tan were to re-offend during his probation period, he will be jailed for three months.
Presiding Judge Jhonson Sirait said the verdict was in line with what prosecutors had demanded against Tan. "This is a guilty verdict, which serves to teach a lesson to the defendant and other parties," he added.
Tan told The Straits Times over the phone: "I'm very happy, and relieved that this matter has come to a conclusion." He added that he looks forward to reuniting with his family, and feels like a weight has lifted from his chest.
But he declined to elaborate further on his experience during his detention.
Tan was at the helm of the Seven Seas Conqueress when he was stopped by an Indonesian navy patrol on Aug 20 last year in waters off Bintan island, according to prosecutors.
His three-member crew and nine passengers were released 12 days after their boat was detained, but the 45-year-old captain has remained in the navy's custody since August last year.
Defence lawyers had argued during the earlier stages of his trial that the engine of the Seven Seas Conqueress had stalled and the vessel had drifted into Indonesian waters momentarily due to the breakdown.
They were also planning to present evidence to prove that Tan and the Malaysia-flagged charter boat were heading towards "Batu Puteh" instead of Indonesia.
Pulau Batu Puteh is the name Malaysia uses for Pedra Branca, an island located about 40km from the east coast of Singapore. Last month, Malaysia filed an application to overturn a 2008 judgment by the International Court of Justice awarding Pedra Branca to the Republic.
Tan's lawyer Purwanto Putro said he may be free to return to Singapore as early as Thursday but The Straits Times understands that the process may take a week before he can be deported.
Prosecutor Supardi also said the state still has a week to decide whether to appeal against the verdict before commencing deportation procedures.
Tan is the second Singaporean boat captain after Shoo Chiau Huat to have been detained for such an extended period in Tanjung Pinang by Indonesian authorities.
Shoo, who is the captain of the MV Selin, was arrested by the Indonesian Navy on April 16 last year in Tanjung Berakit waters, off Bintan island.
A court found him not guilty of illegal fishing in July last year but he was charged with immigration offences after his acquittal.
In January, he decided to plead guilty to the charge of entering Indonesia illegally, and paid the fine last month in the hope of being released. But on April 4 he was charged with sailing in Indonesia's waters without a permit under the country's shipping laws.
His extended detention had prompted Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send a diplomatic note to its Indonesian counterpart late last year.