JAKARTA (Reuters) - The Indonesian navy hasn't requested or received money to release detained vessels or ship captains, a senior naval officer said, responding to a Reuters report quoting captains saying they were held by the navy in an extortion scheme.
Dozens of ships have been arrested by the Indonesian navy over the last year for illegally anchoring in its waters just east of Singapore, Reuters has previously reported, based on information from a dozen people involved in the cases, including captains, ship owners, intermediaries and insurers.
Most of the captains were freed after a few weeks once ship owners made unofficial payments to navy intermediaries of between $300,000 and $400,000, the people said.
Rear Admiral Arsyad Abdullah, the navy fleet commander for the region, said the navy had detained "about 20" ships over the last year for illegal anchorage but that the captains were either charged in court or the ships and captains were released following an investigation.
No payments were made or requested from ship owners by the navy or intermediaries, he told Reuters in an interview this week.
"The information that you heard is not true. We never asked for anything from the ships that were apprehended, we did everything based on the law," Abdullah said, adding that an investigation into the allegations had been concluded.
The U.S. embassy in Jakarta told Reuters it was aware of the ship detentions and payments being made to "parties claiming to represent the Indonesian Navy".
Asked why he thought the U.S. embassy, captains and ship owners said payments were being made to release ships, Abdullah said he believed it was part of a campaign against the Indonesian navy.
"What's clear is that this is an attempt to weaken the navy," he said, adding that he did not know who was behind the campaign.
Two ship captains, American David Ledoux and Filipino Glenn Madoginog, told Reuters in television interviews that they were held for weeks on an Indonesian navy base last year while their ship owners negotiated with the navy for their release.
Madoginog, who was later found guilty by an Indonesian court of illegal anchorage and jailed for two months, said that at its peak he counted 27 captains being held in rooms at the naval base on Batam, an Indonesian island 20 miles (32 km) south of Singapore.
Madoginog said he was kept in a small, dirty room on the base for 67 days after being taken there on Sept. 16 by navy officers who said he would be onshore for only a few hours. He relied on a local agent appointed by his ship owner for food, bedding and clothing.
Abdullah denied the navy kept Madoginog or any other captains on the Batam base.
"We never held the captain (Madoginog)," he said. "We brought him to the naval base for investigation purposes - checking – then we returned him back to his ship."
Ledoux said he was at the Batam naval base with Madoginog and 10 other captains from Oct. 4 until he was released on Oct. 28 after his ship owner made an unofficial payment to navy intermediaries for his release.
Asked why some ships were released without charge, Abdullah said sometimes vessels had stopped in Indonesian waters due to circumstances outside the captain's control, such as faulty machinery. In such cases, the navy would let them go, he said.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Yuddy Cahya Budiman; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by David Clarke)