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Arrested ship captains in Indonesia decry corruption

STORY: “I’m not a criminal but being in jail automatically identifies you as criminal. Maybe this time I feel ashamed but later on we will see…” Glenn Madoginog’s proud life as a ship captain was shattered this year, when he found himself in a cramped, cockroach-infested prison cell in Indonesia, sleeping alongside convicted murderers and child rapists.The Filipino father-of-four is one of dozens of captains who were detained by the Indonesian navy after anchoring in the country’s waters without a permit while waiting to enter Singapore. “Early of September 16, the chief officer woke me up informing me that there is a navy boat calling us, that they want to check the vessel, vessel’s documents, something like that. At around zero eight one to zero eight hundred of the 16th (September), four navy officers came on board they had guns, so we met on the bridge and then they checked the documents and later on they said that you are in Indonesian waters.”The waters just east of Singapore have for decades been used by ships waiting to enter the city-state, but the Indonesian navy has cracked down on vessels it says are anchoring in its territory without paying port fees. Reuters spoke to a dozen people involved in the captain’s cases – from ship owners to insurers to the captains themselves. They say most of the other captains were freed after just a few weeks, once ship owners had made unofficial payments to naval intermediaries of between $300,000 and $400,000.Madoginog wasn’t so lucky and in March he was found guilty of illegal anchorage and sentenced to two months in jail.“I realised I was in trouble; I was shocked and full of doubt on what’s happening. But later on, I think that maybe this something like a ‘legal piracy’ where you have to pay money because one of the captains that I met in there upon my arrival explained to me that you have to pay as soon as possible so that you can go. It’s all money, it’s all about money.”The U.S. company, International Seaways, which owns the vessel Madoginog was captain of, said it had pursued all legal avenues to get him released.In an email to Reuters, it said, “As a matter of policy we do not pay bribes”.The Indonesian navy has said it never requests or receives money to release vessels, and that detentions are handled through the courts or ships are released if there’s insufficient evidence to prosecute.It did not respond to requests for additional comment for this story. Another captain who was detained, however, accuses the Indonesian navy of a well-organised extortion scheme.“Nothing of this sort in 35 years of sailing have I experienced anything like it.”American David Ledoux was captain of the fibre-optic cable-laying ship Reliance when it was arrested last year.Ledoux met Madoginog whilst in detention at Indonesia’s Batam base and they struck up a friendship, washing clothes and burning trash together in the yard outside their rooms.Sources told Reuters that some captains had their rooms upgraded by local agents paid by shipowners.Ledoux says he only managed to dodge prison after the owner of his vessel, SubCom, made an unofficial payment to free him.Reuters was unable to determine the amount paid to free the ship, or when the payment was made.SubCom did not respond to requests for comment.“It’s disturbing, I can see if it was a, a small group of people who are going off and doing it illegally and the government was trying to prevent it. But knowing that the Navy of a country is going out and ‘hijacking’ that’s what it comes down to, ‘hijacking’ ships and their crews and charge them ransom is beyond belief, it’s shocking.” Madoginog was finally able to return to the Philippines in May.He is not currently working and is receiving treatment for depression following his ordeal.International Seaways says it is providing him and his family with financial and medical support.This month, a spokesman for Indonesia’s navy told Reuters, that the navy chief was sending an investigation team to Batam.No further details or a time frame were given..

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