"So far, patrol activities have increased to prevent smuggling into the country of used items, but now they are also aimed at preventing the smuggling of sand out of the region," head of the service`s enforcement and operations means of the special regional office of the Directorate General Customs and Excise of Riau Islands, M Rofiq, said here on Saturday.
He noted that the potential for an increase in sand smuggling was considerable in view of Singapore being in need of sand for reclamation, while Riau Islands remains one of the regions that is rich in sand.
"The recent apprehension of BG Victory 19 attempting to smuggle 5,000 metric tons of sand to Singapore was, indeed, only the first incident. But it will be our starting point to increase our alertness," he said.
He added that the potential for sand smuggling to increase due to current weather conditions was also large since "smugglers often take advantage of the bad weather to avoid patrols. Therefore, we plan to use a large capacity ship that can operate on the high seas during extreme weather conditions."
Meanwhile, the head of the customs service`s investigation and evidence unit, Budi Santoso, said sand smuggling by foreign ships was also possible, referring to the involvement of Sea Glory and Sea Glory 8 tugboats in the smuggling attempt.
"The two boats are flying a Singaporean flag and had no clearance or manifest documents, which they should carry when entering or leaving the country," he said.
Budi also said an investigation was still being conducted to determine whether the two boats had been involved in smuggling of ground sand to Singapore.
"We will study it with regard to increasing sea patrols. But we have difficulties with the investigation because the owners live in Singapore," he added.
For the time being, the skipper, HN, is being held as a suspect on a charge of violating export rules.
Victory 19 and Sea Glory 8 GT 167 were stopped and detained by customs boat BC-9004 in Nongsa, Batam, on Friday, January 6, at 5am.
Five thousand metric tons of sand, worth more than Rp1 billion, were loaded in Kijang on the island of Bintan, but the attempt was foiled while the ship was sailing towards international seas leading to Singapore.
"Sand smugglers not only violate customs regulations, but also damage the environment and harm the nation's pride," Budi said.(*)