The ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) assessed that there are at least three organised crime syndicates involved in fuel siphoning operation in Southeast Asia.
According to its special report, one of the three groups is “less violent” as compared to the other two crime groups. The former has bases of operation mainly in Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS) region. However, the group is not very successful due to the frequent patrolling operations led by the littoral States and the ongoing joint coordinated patrols.
The second group is based in South China Sea and is equipped with relatively more “sea-worthy” vessels due to the sea condition there.
The third group is believed to have connections with Indochina and is active in that area, often deploying larger number of perpetrators and targeting larger tankers.
These syndicates were first brought to light after an arrest made by the Singapore Police Coast Guard in September 2014. A total of 53 men involved in illegal ship fuel trade were arrested. Most of these cases were inside job involving the crew who siphoned fuel/oil from their own vessel. Initial investigation revealed that syndicates were behind the crime with a mastermind and middlemen who served as the in-between for “sellers” and “buyers”.
The modus operandi of these crimes often involved ship boarding by the perpetrators, then they will steer the vessel to another location to conduct the siphoning to another vessel. ReCAAP noticed that some of these cases showed that the syndicates have good knowledge or insider information of the type of manifest of fuel/oil onboard the victim’s vessel, the vessel’s route, as well as the type of siphoning equipment onboard the vessel to facilitate the siphoning process.
In some cases, the “hijacked” vessels will be steered to a preferred location for fuel siphoning to avoid detection by authorities. Meanwhile, some cases involved scheduling of another vessel to come alongside the victim’s vessel at specific time and location, or at the storage of the stolen fuel/oil, or a specific location to transfer the stolen fuel/oil to potential buyers.
Meanwhile, ReCAAP ISC was informed that some of these syndicates are well connected with middlemen to dispose the illegally siphoned fuel/oil. The special report further stated that networking and word of mouth are the mean of linkages between buyers and sellers for cheaper bunkers, and ReCAAP does not rule out transnational organised syndicates being involved in such operations.