Singapore charges 11 men over Shell oil heist
SINGAPORE: Eleven men were charged in a Singapore court on Tuesday over their part in an alleged oil theft at Shell’s biggest refinery, court documents showed.
Police in the island-state, Asia’s main oil trading hub, said earlier on Tuesday they had detained 17 men and seized millions of dollars in cash and a small tanker during their investigations into a theft at the Pulau Bukom industrial site.
Royal Dutch Shell, which first reported the theft to authorities in August, said in a news release that the arrests included “a limited number of Shell employees” and that it anticipated “a short delay in the supply operations at Bukom.”
Nine Singaporeans were charged over the theft and two Vietnamese nationals were charged with receiving stolen goods, transferred from Pulau Bukom to a small oil tanker named Prime South, charge sheets showed.
Shipping data from Thomson Reuters Eikon showed the Prime South was shipping fuel between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Singapore for the past 30 days.
Those arrested by police during raids on Sunday, all men, ranged in age from 30 to 63. Police said the six who had not been charged were still under investigation.
The court documents seen so far allege three incidents of gasoil theft: on November 21, 2017, of more than 2,322 tons valued at S$1.277 million (SR3.6 million); and on January 5 and 7 this year of a combined 2,062 tons of gasoil valued at S$1.126 million.
Both Vietnamese nationals were charged with receiving gasoil on January 7, at wharf 5 on Bukom island, the documents show.
Police said they also seized S$3.05 million in cash and the 12,000-deadweight-ton tanker.
They have also frozen the suspects’ bank accounts, the police said.
Bukom is the largest wholly owned Shell refinery in the world in terms of crude distillation capacity, according to the company’s website.
Shell declined to say how much oil had been stolen. The charge sheets specified gasoil as the stolen commodity and listed varying amounts for each man charged. Shipping and oil refining have contributed significantly to Singapore’s rising wealth during the past decades.
The Southeast Asian city-state is one of the world’s most important oil trading hubs, with most of the Middle East’s crude oil passing through Singapore before being delivered to the huge consumers in China, Japan and South Korea.
Singapore is also Southeast Asia’s main refinery hub and the world’s biggest marine refueling station.
Shell is one of the biggest and longest established foreign investors in Singapore. Its oil refinery on Bukom island, situated 5.5 kilometers to the southwest of Singapore, is the company’s biggest such facility in the world, with a processing capacity of 500,000 barrels per day.
Southeast Asia is a hotspot of illegal oil trading. In some cases, oil has been illegally siphoned from storage tanks, but there have also been thefts at sea.
The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) says that siphoning of fuel and oil at sea in Asia, including through armed robbery and piracy, saw sharp increases between 2011 and 2015.
There has been a modest decline since then, although the organization said in a quarterly report that oil theft was still “of concern,” especially in the South China Sea, off the east coast of Malaysia.
The stolen fuel is generally sold across Southeast Asia, offloaded directly into trucks or tanks at small harbors away from oil terminals.