Thailand’s Regional Container Lines (RCL) is urging the Indonesian Navy to free a container ship intercepted for an alleged breach of the country’s palm oil export ban.

The 1,248-teu feeder vessel Mathu Bhum (built 1990) was seized on 4 May off North Sumatra.

The navy said the vessel had carried palm oil out of Indonesia in violation of the export ban introduced at the start of May.

Indonesia, the world’s largest producer, prohibited shipments to curb soaring domestic prices and shortages.

An Indonesian warship met the boxship as it headed for Malaysia, navy spokesman Agung Prasetiawan said.

“The ship was carrying ... 34 containers containing refined, bleached, deodorised (RBD) palm olein. This is the type of material that is temporarily prohibited for exports,” he added.

RCL lawyer Landen Marbun told the Detik Sumut website the container line was unaware of the contents of the 34 containers in question.

He said the company is only a freight forwarder.

“We protest the detention of the Mathu Bhum ship. Our client is only a service provider, not involved in anything about it,” Marbun added.

The lawyer said the vessel is also carrying 402 other containers that need to reach their destinations in Malaysia and Singapore for further transport to elsewhere in Asia, Europe and the US.

“With our ship being detained, shipping will be disrupted,” he said.

Protest letter planned

The company plans to send an official letter as a form of protest to the navy.

Indonesia has a 56% market share of global palm oil exports.

“Indonesian shipments of palm oil to the India subcontinent (7m tonnes in 2021), China (4.25m tonnes) and Europe (2.89m tonnes) will be disrupted under the new policy,” said Eastport Maritime.

The Singapore shipbroker said this would probably “weigh on freight rates in these trade lanes if the measure is enacted for an extended period”.