SINGAPORE: The chief officer of a tanker involved in receiving US$2.6 million (S$3.5 million) worth of gas oil stolen from Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery was on Thursday (Jul 11) sentenced to jail for two-and-a-half years.
Vietnamese national Dang Van Hanh, 38, is the first person to plead guilty in the "unprecedented" case of misappropriation, which involved two syndicates of Shell employees.
Dang had helped to receive about 5,600 metric tons of stolen gas oil on four occasions between Jul 31, 2016 and Jan 7, 2018.
He was caught red-handed during a police operation on Jan 7, 2018, which led to the arrest of multiple suspects across Singapore.
The prosecution said the misappropriation was on "an unprecedented scale", with eight former Shell employees charged along with others involved in the crime.
Dang pleaded guilty to two charges of dishonestly receiving stolen property, with another two charges taken into consideration.
He was chief officer on Prime South, a Vietnamese vessel owned by Prime Shipping Corporation, which received large quantities of the stolen gas oil.
Prime South and a second ship, Prime Sun, entered Shell Pulau Bukom to receive legitimately purchased gas oil, and would also take on stolen oil.
The oil was illegally taken from rogue Shell employees through arrangements made by others in the syndicate.
The Pulau Bukom refinery is the largest petrochemical production and export centre in Asia Pacific.
HE TOOK OVER ILLEGAL RECEIPT OF OIL FROM PREVIOUS OFFICER
The court heard that Dang joined Prime Shipping Corporation six years ago and drew a monthly salary of 28 million Vietnamese dong, about S$1,630. He also received a bonus of about a month's salary, and a share of the company's profit.
He was initially assigned to another vessel, and when transferred to Prime South, he was informed by its outgoing chief officer that the ship had received illegal cargo from Shell Pulau Bukom on multiple occasions for extra money.
As chief officer, Dang's role was to ensure the safety of the ship and its goods, as well as oversee cargo operations and take charge of the 12 tanks on board.
On one occasion on Jan 4 last year, Dang was on board Prime South while it was on the way to the wharf at Pulau Bukom for cargo to be loaded.
While the ship was en route, the captain of the ship called Dang to his office and told him they would be receiving about 9,000 metric tonnes of legitimately purchased oil.
He asked Dang to decide which tanks to store this oil with, and Dang indicated that nine of the 12 tanks on the vessel would be used for this purpose.
At about 8.20pm on Jan 6 last year, the crew began loading the legitimately bought oil onto the ship. At about 2am the next day, the captain of the ship asked Dang to change the hose connection.
They switched the connection, linking the hose to the manifold on Prime South together with two Shell employees in order to transfer stolen gas oil to the three remaining tanks.
The men took more than two hours to load the stolen oil onto the ship. When the process was complete, two Shell employees boarded the vessel, disconnected the hose and left.
POLICE NABBED ACCUSED AND OTHER SUSPECTS, BUSTING SYNDICATE
Shortly after this, police officers boarded the ship. Authorities had begun investigations into suspected theft of gas oil from Shell Pulau Bukom after receiving a police report from a Shell representative on Aug 1, 2017, that the company had suffered loss of fuel amounting to about S$2.98 million in April that year.
Dang was arrested along with other suspects. A surveyor from Veritas Petroleum Services boarded the ship and measured the volume of stolen gas oil in the three tanks.
He later said that he was paid between US$1,000 and US$2,000 to assist in receiving the stolen gas soil on board Prime Son.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Christopher Ong, Stephanie Chew and Kang Jia Hui said the offences were serious involving a high degree of breach of trust, premeditation and sophistication.
The crimes took place over an extended period of time, with a "transnational element because of the involvement of foreign vessels", said the prosecutors.
"These offences have the potential to bring Singapore’s reputation as a bunkering hub into disrepute," said the prosecutors.
"Singapore is the world’s leading bunkering port, and also one of the busiest ports in the world, with the maritime industry being an important pillar of our economy."
Dang was chief officer, second in command only to the captain, and was paid for assisting in the crimes, said the prosecutors.
However, the prosecution accepted that Dang's culpability is relatively low, when seen in light of the other offenders in the broader criminal enterprise.
He took instructions from the captains of the two Vietnamese vessels, whose cases are still pending. The prosecution also acknowledged that he had cooperated with investigations and pleaded guilty early.