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Singapore files more charges against Shell oil theft suspects

Fathin Ungku: JAN 15, 2018

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A Singapore court on Monday filed additional charges against nine men accused in a large-scale oil theft at Shell’s biggest refinery, the latest development in an extensive investigation in the city-state.

The nine Singaporean men, eight of whom were employees of the Singapore subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, faced initial charges in court last week alongside two Vietnamese nationals, who are due at court on Tuesday.

At least one additional charge was brought against each of the Singaporean men on Monday, court documents showed.

Charges against three other men on Saturday accused people at Sentek Marine & Trading Ptem, one of Singapore’s biggest marine fuel suppliers, of participating in the scheme, which involves incidents going back months.

The public prosecutor, Stephanie Chew, said on Monday the three men charged on Saturday were not part of an initial 17 the police arrested early last week, bringing the total number of known arrests in relation to the case to 20.

Chew would not comment on the remaining six arrested who are yet to be charged.

The Singapore subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell Plc first contacted the authorities in August 2017 about theft at its Pulau Bukom industrial site, just south of the country’s main island.

Police have seized millions of dollars in cash and a small tanker in the sting operation involving simultaneous raids across Singapore, one of the world’s most important oil trading centers and a major refinery hub.

Experts say illicit oil trading is widespread in Southeast Asia, where stolen fuel is sold across the region, often offloaded directly into trucks or tanks at small harbors away from oil terminals.

This is the second high-profile case of wrongdoing at companies in Singapore to hit headlines in recent weeks. In December, Keppel Corporation Ltd’s KPLM.SI rig-building business agreed to pay more than $422 million to resolve charges it had bribed Brazilian officials.


For a graphic of Singapore oil heist, click

Text extracts

Eleven men were charged in a Singapore court in the week up to Jan. 12 in connection with a large-scale oil theft. Police seized millions of dollars in cash and a small tanker during their investigations into the heist at the Pulau Bukom industrial site.

Shell’s oil refinery on Bukom island is the company’s biggest such facility in the world. The court documents seen so far allege incidents of gasoil theft on Nov. 21, 2017 and on Jan. 5 and 7 of this year.

The Prime South

Fuel was transferred from Pulau Bukom to a small oil tanker named Prime South at 7 p.m. local time on Jan. 7, 2018, charge sheets showed.

Recent shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon showed the Prime South was transporting fuel between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Singapore on a regular basis. Its destination was also listed as Ho Chi Minh, before being seized.

The vessel also made stops at Rayong, Thailand. Like Vietnam, Thailand has been known to see large volumes of illicit fuel trading. The Prime South has frequently had its transponders switched off, which ships are required to carry in order to avoid collisions.

Although the charge sheets mention only one incident, ship tracking data showed the vessel loaded fuel from the same terminal and delivered it to Ho Chi Minh City in recent months.

The chart below shows a recent history of the vessel’s cargo based on the ship’s draft. The higher the draft measurement, the lower the vessel sits in the water, indicating a heavier load.

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 and even hijackings of entire ships in order to steal fuel.

The stolen fuel is generally sold across Southeast Asia, offloaded directly into trucks or tanks at small harbours away from oil terminals. However, stolen cargoes have also been known to be re-sold in the Asian wholesale fuel markets.

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