Boat captain returns to Singapore after 16-month detention in Indonesia

Boat captain Shoo Chiau Huat, 51, with his Wife Jasmine in his home . ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - After his arrest last year in Tanjung Berakit waters off Bintan island, Singaporean boat captain Shoo Chiau Huat spent almost one and a half years away from his wife and four children.

But on Tuesday (Aug 29) night, the family was finally reunited upon his release from Tanjung Pinang that morning.

Stepping out of the arrival hall at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, the 51-year-old was all smiles as he caught sight of his daughter Michelle, 28, who was there to receive him with his younger brother and sister-in-law.

He embraced his daughter with a weary grin.

"I'm very happy to be back," Mr Shoo said. "The most important thing for me now is to go home and be with my family."

The last he saw his wife and daughter was around six months ago, when they visited him in Indonesia, where he had been detained, he said.

He only found out he would be released on Tuesday morning.

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"The police there said someone from the embassy was here for me," he said. "I was elated, and packed my clothes and left."

His wife, Jasmine, 51, who was not at the ferry terminal, told The Straits Times over the phone that she was preparing for some rituals that would rid her husband of bad luck.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard that he would be returning today," she said. "I've heard it might happen so many times before, but it never turned out to be true in the past."

Mr Shoo was arrested for illegal fishing on April 16 last year.

His release follows the recent return of another Singaporean boat captain held in Indonesia, Mr Ricky Tan Poh Hui. The 45-year-old had been detained in Indonesia for eight months for trespassing in Indonesian waters, and came back to Singapore in May this year.

He, too, was at the terminal on Tuesday when Mr Shoo returned.

Since her husband's detention, it had been a long, helpless wait for Mrs Jasmine Shoo, who does administrative work in an insurance company.

On Mondays, Mrs Shoo would rush to Punggol East MP Charles Chong's meet-the-people sessions after work to ask for assistance.

But days stretched to months as she pined for her husband's return, single-handedly caring for their children.

"I hope he can have a new life, and new beginnings," Mrs Shoo said on Tuesday.

"I'm preparing to help him get rid of bad luck, perhaps by having him step over coals," she added. "I'll also get a fresh set of clothing ready for him."

"It's like a weight has been lifted from my chest," said Mr Shoo's brother Yong Shoo, who works as a storeman and was also at Tanah Merah to receive his elder brother on Tuesday. "We were very worried, as there was no confirmed date of return all this while."

Shoo Chiau Huat (left), 51, the Singaporean boat captain who was detained in Indonesia for over 16 months was hugged by his daughter, Michelle, 28 at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on Aug 29, 2017. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

"We would communicate over the phone two to three times a month, and I'd tell him about how the family is doing," added the 48-year-old, who is the youngest of four siblings.

While he visited his brother during court hearings in Tanjung Pinang around three to four times last year to find out what the boat captain was being charged with initially, he stopped after the process seemed never-ending.

"It was tough in jail," said Mr Shoo Chiau Huat, recalling his ordeal. "I wondered why the prosecution kept appealing, and objecting to my acquittal."

"The most difficult point for me was being detained in the local jail, where there were over 70 people in a cell," he added.

Although Mr Shoo was acquitted for illegal fishing offences in July last year, he remained in detention for immigration offences.

In January this year, 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.

While the Supreme Court threw out the prosecution's appeal against his acquittal on illegal fishing on April 20, Mr Shoo had remained under "house arrest" in Tanjung Pinang.

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.

The Singapore Consulate in Batam and the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta have been engaging the Indonesian authorities regularly to ensure that Mr Shoo is accorded his due legal rights under Indonesian law, and to request that Mr Shoo's case be processed expeditiously, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement on Tuesday night.

Friends who learnt of Mr Shoo's release expressed their relief as well.

Among them was housewife Moreen Tan, 58, who has been friends with Mr Shoo for over 10 years.

"Over the past year and a half, (Mr Shoo's) family has gone through an immense amount of stress and hardship," said Ms Tan, who has been in regular contact with Mrs Shoo and her children.

"We are glad that this turmoil is finally over and he is able to reunite with his family," she said.

-Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Jakarta

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