Cops hunt oil smuggling masterminds
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Cops hunt oil smuggling masterminds

Vessels recovered, 7 crew still at large

Police forensic science officers collect evidence on the 'Kamraingoen' vessel which was modified and repainted. The ship is one of the three oil-smuggling ships which were recovered, and are now anchored at the Port of Songkhla. (Photo: NBT Narathiwat)
Police forensic science officers collect evidence on the 'Kamraingoen' vessel which was modified and repainted. The ship is one of the three oil-smuggling ships which were recovered, and are now anchored at the Port of Songkhla. (Photo: NBT Narathiwat)

Police vowed to find the masterminds of the oil-smuggled gang and will arrest another seven crew members who have been missing after the three seized oil-smuggling vessels were recaptured on Monday.

Pol Col Anek Taosupap, the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) deputy commander, said on Tuesdayy that as they investigated the case of missing vessels, police had also rounded up more suspects and witnesses related to the disappearance, adding more depth to the case.

That said, the investigation now has evidence of the relationship between the ships and at least four people, who appeared to be masterminds of the operation.

The police will gather the evidence before asking the court to issue arrest warrants against those suspects, said Pol Col Anek.

On Sunday, the three confiscated fishing boats modified to smuggle diesel were spotted in international waters near Malaysia.

The seized ships, containing 330,000 litres of smuggled oil, disappeared from a pier in Chon Buri last week.

According to Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiat Pankaew, deputy commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), they took the route out to Koh Kood, Cambodia, and then sailed out into international waters near Malaysia.

Police intercepted the three vessels -- the Kamraingoen, JP and Daorung -- on Monday morning. They were towed to the pier at Marine Police Division 7 in Songkhla at 7.35pm that day.

The Kamraingoen boat had been partly repainted, and the Daorung ship had a malfunctioning engine.

Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiat said the crew sold the contraband oil in Cambodia and when they learnt that police were after them, they fled the pier before finishing changing the boats' appearance.

"When the vessels were recovered at sea, the tanks were almost empty," he said.

He said the three boats had been carrying oil worth 4-5 million baht in total on the grey market for contraband fuel when they were first seized.

The three boats were worth a lot more, about 30 million baht.

Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiat said three or four police would be held responsible for the disappearance of the boats from the marine police pier in Sattahip district of Chon Buri on June 12.

They were among five boats seized in the Gulf of Thailand in March for smuggling oil.

The ships were kept at the pier of the marine police on March 19 while all crew were released on bail.

He said 15 crew out of 28 were on board the three ships when they disappeared, but when police later found the ships, only eight crew were on board. They were charged with nighttime burglary and none of them admitted to being the vessel owners.

Seven others are now fleeing, and police will try to find and arrest them, he said.

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