Two ships with 44 crew members on board have been held in Malaysia over alleged illegal anchoring.

Domestic media reported the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) as saying the “seizures” of a tanker and a cargo ship were carried out at separate locations on Monday.

They did not have permits to anchor in Johor waters in southern Malaysia, reports said.

Johor MMEA director Nurul Hizam Zakaria was cited as saying the first seizure involved a cargo ship registered in Sierra Leone.

The vessel was 13.5 nautical miles (25 km) east of Tanjung Penawar at 11:00 hours local time.

He said 15 Bangladeshis and Indonesians aged between 25 and 56 were arrested.

“The second seizure involved a tanker registered in Comoros at a position nine nautical miles south-east of Tanjung Balau, operated by 29 Indian, Pakistan and Iran nationals aged between 21 and 54 years,” Zakaria said, according to Malaysia’s Bernama news service.

MMEA officers escorted both masters and 12 other crew members to the Tanjung Sedili Maritime Zone for further investigation.

Malaysia has so far recorded the seizures of 297 ships during its crackdown on illegal operations.

“This action is to ensure that all vessels entering Malaysian waters, especially the waters of Johor, respect the sovereignty and comply with the laws that have been set,” the admiral added, according to Bernama.

Tankers boarded

In December, the Malaysian coastguard boarded and detained two ageing tankers accused of carrying out an unauthorised ship-to-ship transfer of oil off its coastline.

A helicopter-based team boarded the Chinese-operated, 300,400-dwt Artemis III (built 1996) and the Indian-managed, 159,100-dwt Ocean Hermana (built 2004) after the crews refused to cooperate with a request for an inspection, Malaysian authorities said.

Campaign group United Against Nuclear Iran identified the two vessels and posted a satellite image of the ships side-by-side.

The group said the transfer involved an Iranian cargo after it tracked the Artemis III loading around 2m barrels of crude at Iran’s Kharg Island oil terminal in August.

It said the Artemis III carried out an STS transfer of one-third of those barrels to an aframax tanker in the same area off Malaysia in October before authorities took action.

The MMEA said it is investigating a case of conducting STS operations and anchoring without permission. The two captains are also being investigated for obstructing the duties of a public servant.