• Reuters

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Eleven men were charged Tuesday in a Singapore court 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 that day they had detained 17 men and seized SG$3.05 million ($2.29 million) in cash and a 12,000-deadweight-ton tanker during their investigations at the Pulau Bukom industrial site.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC, 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, which were 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 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 Nov. 21, 2017, of more than 2,322 tons valued at 1.277 million Singapore dollars; and on Jan. 5 and 7 this year of a combined 2,062 tons of gasoil valued at SG$1.126 million.

Both Vietnamese nationals were charged with receiving gasoil on Bukom island Jan. 7, the documents show.

They have also frozen the suspects’ bank accounts, the police said.

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 few 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 before being delivered to the huge consumers — 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 km 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 hot spot 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 the siphoning of fuel and oil at sea in Asia, including through armed robbery and piracy, saw a sharp increase 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.

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