Request for Legal Proceedings in ‘Ghost’ Container Ship Case

By Htun Htun 7 September 2018

YANGON—The Department of Marine Administration will seek legal advice from the Union Attorney-General’s Office to file a lawsuit regarding a ‘ghost’ container ship which ran aground near the mouth of the Gulf of Martaban, 7 nautical miles (13 kilometers) from Thongwa Township in Yangon Region in late August.

At a press conference held by the department in Yangon on Thursday, department director-general U Thaung Kyaing said “legal proceedings will be initiated according to the remark of the Attorney-General’s Office.”

The rusty container ship Sam Ratulangi registered in Palau, an island country located in the western Pacific Ocean, was first discovered by fishermen off Yangon on Aug. 29. Two days later, the Myanmar Navy found a tugboat, called Independence, which had towed the freighter, about 80 kilometers off Myanmar’s coast.

The Independence tugboat seen from a Navy vessel. / Myanmar Navy

The Navy found 13 Indonesian crew members on board the tugboat who said they had been towing the vessel since Aug. 11 and intended to take it to a ship-breaking factory in Bangladesh where the ship would be dismantled.

The Indonesian crew members said that they released the freighter after some of the cables attaching it to the tugboat broke in bad weather on Aug. 27. They confessed that they failed to inform the authorities of Myanmar in whose territorial waters their ship went adrift, according to the Department of Marine Administration.

The 13 Indonesian crew members are being held in detention in Kawthoung for investigation, said U Thaung Kyaing.

Since the incident, the Navy has come under criticism regarding the marine security of the country.

It is difficult for a poor country like Myanmar, said U Thaung Kyaing, to constantly keep an eye on the country’s territorial waters that stretch from the Naf River in Rakhine to Kawthoung in Taninthayi Region.

Following the case, some interest has been shown by the government in establishing a coastguard force for the security of Myanmar’s coast, he said.

The press conference given by the Department of Marine Administration. / Aung Kyaw Htet / The Irrawaddy

The owners of the Independence tugboat have appointed Daw May Thant Zin as their Myanmar representative to work for the release of the 13 Indonesian cabin members.

Daw May Thant Zin claimed that the crew members did not abandon the container ship, but they were arrested while attempting to recover it.

The Singapore-based First Capital Insurance Co, which the owners of the Sam Ratulangi have an insurance policy with, has also appointed a Myanmar representative to handle the case.

The Department of Marine Administration is also arranging for officials from the Indonesian Embassy to Myanmar to be able to visit the detained crew members.