Defence minister Adam Shareef on Sunday proclaimed that the controversial incident involving a Maldivian-flagged tanker that was spotted alongside a UN-blacklisted North-Korean tanker, was a planned felony.
Speaking at a press conference at the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Shareef shed light on the military's role and cooperation with the ongoing international probe into the issue of the two tankers. However, he stated that he could not divulge details as the investigation is being conducted by the United Nations in conjunction with a number of foreign countries.
Soon after reports of the tankers arose, the Maldivian government had swiftly responded that the vessel was not registered in the country and warned of “aggressive action” against individuals who had illegally used the Maldives’ flag on the vessel.
Reiterating the claims, Shareef said the incident is causing much difficulty as reports of the Maldivian-flagged tanker surfaced amidst the ongoing state of emergency the government had declared early in February. He declared that the incident had been planned in advance.
The authorities had arrested a local businessman, Abdullah Fahmy from Madaveli in Gaafu Dhaalu atoll, last week over allegations of trading with the North Korean tanker. He has been charged with attempt to overthrow the government, along with a cache of serious other charges including bribery, forging official documents from the Ministry of Transport, terrorism and encouraging terrorist activities.
However, during the press briefing, the defence minister revealed that NCTC had not been aware of the incident before the reports were published.
"[The military's] involvement in this issue is regarding concerns of national security. The rest of the investigation is carried out by Maldives Police Service," he said.
It was the Japanese government that had first reported in late February seeing the tanker ‘Xin Yuan 18’, bearing a Maldivian flag near the North-Korean tanker ‘Chon Ma San’, which was designated as a vessel of targeted sanctions by the US government, in the East China Sea.
Japan’s foreign ministry had stated that the two vessels could have been engaging in ship-to-ship transfers and reported the incident to the UN Security Council Committee and countries with ties to North Korea and the Maldives.
While the Maldivian government had immediately claimed the vessel was not registered in the archipelago, the President’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs had released statements condemning the use of the Maldives’ flag “in a manner so as to tarnish the good standing reputation of our nation and that of our people” and said that it was investigating the matter very seriously.