Navy's Information Fusion Centre played role in 'slave ship' capture

A member of the Indonesian military (top) standing on a seized alleged "slave ship" at the naval port of Sabang, on April 7, 2018.
A member of the Indonesian military (top) standing on a seized alleged "slave ship" at the naval port of Sabang, on April 7, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Indonesia's seizure of an alleged "slave ship" grabbed the headlines in April, but the successful operation relied on a tip-off from a maritime intel-sharing centre based in Singapore.

The Information Fusion Centre (IFC), which is hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy, has revealed its role in the operation, which involved sharing intelligence with other similar outfits and regional collaboration.

It was one of several successful operations that the IFC has had a role in in recent years.

The stateless STS-50, a fishing vessel wanted by Interpol, had left Madagascar towards the Straits of Malacca. The IFC was alerted and tracked its location for days, with information from the France International Liaison Officer (ILO) and Madagascar IFC.

The IFC then tipped off the Indonesian Navy about the possibility of the vessel entering its territorial waters, leading to the successful capture.

The vessel had a notorious maritime reputation. The mostly Indonesian crew reported that they had not been paid and that their passports and other documents had been taken away when they boarded the ship nearly a year earlier.

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Ong, the IFC's head, told The Straits Times: "This incident highlights the merits of real-time information sharing and how the IFC is a key platform to facilitate this."

The IFC, which was set up in 2009, plays a key role in securing the region's waters against maritime security threats such as piracy, sea robbery, weapons proliferation and maritime terrorism, as well as contraband and drug smuggling.

Earlier this year the IFC tracked the vessel MV Sunrise Glory, which was suspected of contraband trafficking, for three months.

The Indonesian Navy was tipped off by the IFC which led to the vessel's capture off Batam. It was found to be carrying a tonne of crystal methamphetamine hidden in rice sacks. Authorities suspect the vessel of being a "phantom ship", with no proper registration, which was smuggling drugs and goods.

The IFC also helped in tracking the oil tanker Hai Soon 12 in 2016 after it was hijacked by nine armed perpetrators who planned to steal the marine gas oil on board.

The location information IFC shared led to its successful recovery with no casualties.

The IFC also helped in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in 2014.

The number of piracy and sea robbery incidents in the region fell from 179 in 2015 to 84 incidents in 2017.

In the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, there was a 90 per cent drop in the same period.

The IFC added that it is responding to new threats in maritime security. Crew abduction of crew and theft of oil cargo were some of the notable issues cited last year.