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Myanmar: New shipments of jet fuel tracked despite fears over military use

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Evidence points to three likely shipments of aviation fuel this year using complex delivery routes

Deliveries come amid recent spike in airstrikes on civilians, including a deadly attack on a monastery in Ah Kyi Pan Pa Lon village in central Myanmar

‘Shipping and fuel companies have no option but to withdraw from that supply chain completely’ - Agnès Callamard

Amnesty International has documented the arrival of new shipments of aviation fuel to Myanmar despite global calls to deprive the country’s military of the resources it needs to carry out unlawful airstrikes.

At least two - likely three - additional shipments of aviation fuel entered the country between January and June this year.

The Myanmar military is using new evasive tactics to import aviation fuel, which Amnesty first revealed in January exposing that the regime had been importing aviation fuel throughout 2023 after the imposition of sanctions on parts of its supply chain.

As with those shipments, the fuel was bought and sold multiple times before reaching Vietnam ahead of being shipped to Myanmar this year. In two instances the Chinese-owned HUITONG78 oil tanker transported fuel from Vietnam to Myanmar. Other companies also appear to have played a role in the supply chain, including fuel traders Singapore-based Sahara Energy International Pte Ltd and Chinese state-owned entity (SOE) CNOOC Trading (Singapore) Pte Ltd. A likely third shipment, also by HUITONG78, appears to have gone to Myanmar from the United Arab Emirates in May.

It is unclear how the fuel was used after it arrived, but the Myanmar military’s control of the terminal in question at Yangon port means there are significant risks that it could be used for non-civilian purposes.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“The Myanmar military is relying on the very same Chinese vessel and Vietnamese companies to import its aviation fuel, despite Amnesty having already exposed that reckless supply chain.

“It is a raw display of both the sheer impunity with which the Myanmar military is operating, and the utter complicity of the states responsible, including Vietnam, China and Singapore.

“While Amnesty does not know for certain how the aviation fuel shipped in this way was used once it arrived in Myanmar, the risk is high that the military - which controls the terminal where the fuel was offloaded - uses it to fuel attacks against civilians.

“It means shipping and fuel companies have no option but to withdraw from that supply chain completely. That includes everyone involved, from vessel owners to insurers to fuel traders. It’s high time that companies put an end to these shipments.”

Deadly aviation fuel trade continues

Despite Amnesty and others calling on companies and governments to suspend jet fuel shipments to Myanmar or risk complicity in a deadly supply chain, these new findings show the trade continues.

Vessel tracking and trade data show that this year the Chinese oil tanker HUITONG78 transported two shipments of aviation fuel to the former Puma Energy terminal (now controlled by the Myanmar-based Shoon Energy group and the Myanmar military) in Thilawa, Yangon port, on 14 January and 29 February. In common with all of the shipments made in 2023 that were identified by Amnesty, the oil tanker loaded the fuel at the Vietnamese Cai Mep Petroleum storage terminal operated by Hai Linh Co Ltd, before leaving for Myanmar.

As in 2023, these shipments involved multiple purchases and reselling of the same fuel, making it hard to trace the original supplier. Before the January shipment’s arrival in Vietnam, the fuel can be traced to the Vopak Singapore Banyan Terminal, a storage facility controlled by Dutch storage and logistics company Royal Vopak, which confirmed the shipment but emphasised that “[o]ur service is the safe storage of our customers’ products while it is in our terminals in the ports”, and that they “respect applicable laws, regulations and sanctions”. The February shipment can be traced back to the BP Hua Dong terminal in Ningbo port, Hangzhou Bay, China. Amnesty was unable to identify the company that controls the Chinese terminal.

Before the final transfer and sale of fuel to Myanmar, the January shipment was sold to a Vietnamese company by the Singapore branch of the global fuel trader Sahara Energy. The February shipment was sold by the Singapore trading branch of Chinese SOE China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC Singapore). In both cases, customs data shows that Sahara Energy and CNOOC Singapore should have been aware that the fuel was transported to Vietnam for transit purposes only. Each of the shipments was worth approximately $8 million.

Suspicious third shipment

The evidence examined by Amnesty also indicates that in May there was a probable third shipment of aviation fuel to Myanmar. According to vessel-tracking data, the HUITONG78 loaded fuel at the Hamriyah port in Sharjah in the UAE in April, arriving at the Yangon port on or about 12 May. It then appears to have turned off its AIS radar as it entered Thilawa port, during which satellite imagery shows what appears to be the HUITONG78 moored at the former Puma Energy terminal in Thilawa.

The ship’s draught data (which indicates a change in its overall weight) suggests that it offloaded fuel at the Thilawa terminal. Although Amnesty wasn’t able to confirm whether it was aviation fuel, it is likely to have been given the pattern of shipments conducted by this same vessel. The HUITONG78 vessel is registered for protection and indemnity insurance with the West of England P&I Club, although in response to Amnesty the firm said that “if [...] this vessel was carrying jet fuel to Myanmar, then there was no cover for those trades.”

According to the West of England P&I Club, the HUITONG78 is owned by an affiliate of the Chinese state-owned defence company China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, which according to a media report has been involved in transporting US-sanctioned Venezuelan oil. All companies named in these findings were contacted for comment - only Royal Vopak and West of England P&I Club responded. 

Witnesses tell of deadly air attack on monastery

Last month Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, reported that military airstrikes against civilian targets in the country increased five-fold in the first half of this year. Amnesty documented one of these attacks. Witnesses told Amnesty that on the morning of 9 May, the Myanmar military launched an attack on a monastery in Saw Township’s Ah Kyi Pan Pa Lon village in central Myanmar’s Magway Region. Following two initial airstrikes, witnesses said that a fighter jet then circled back and followed up with heavy gunfire directed at those fleeing the initial explosions. The monastery, which is believed to be a century old, was destroyed.

Amnesty interviewed four survivors of the attack in Magway and one person who arrived at the scene afterwards to help the victims. Researchers also analysed 34 photos showing the corpses, survivors’ wounds, weapons used in the attack and the extent of the damage. All of the visual evidence of the destruction of the monastery is consistent with an airstrike that caused a fire and severely burned both the structure and many of the victims. Photos of fragments of the ordnance show the remnants of a tail kit for an aerial bomb, as well as unexploded 23mm high-explosive incendiary ammunition from a GSh-23 machine gun typically used by fighter jets such as the Russian YAK-130.

The date on the discarded high-explosive incendiary cartridges indicates the ordnance was manufactured locally in Myanmar this year. The wounds of other victims of the attack are consistent with fragments from aircraft bombs or direct gunfire. Satellite imagery also shows that the monastery area has been heavily burned.

Saw Township is located in a contested area of central Myanmar where parallel administrative structures and armed groups known as People’s Defense Forces are active. Witnesses said that while some of these forces were at the monastery, the majority were civilians. They also said there had been no fighting in or close to the village before the attack.

In the early morning of the attack, witnesses said they heard buzzing in the skies, which they described as sounding like a drone. Some hours later, about 50 to 60 local people had gathered in the monastery to discuss local issues. Witnesses also reported that at least one child and the head monk of the monastery were also in the building. According to survivors, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted by the Myanmar military, the first bomb dropped at about 10:45am. One man said:

“The bomb fell a bit far behind me, right into the place where my brother, uncle and sister were sitting. I am sure that the fighter jet aimed at killing all of us.”

 Another man said he escaped from the monastery unharmed following the first bomb and was hiding across the road when the second bomb was dropped. He saw the monastery was on fire and a fighter jet shooting at people who were running away. He said:

 “I heard the people screaming in the monastery. Some people were running on the street amid the continuous gunfire from the fighter jet … The fighter jet flew over the monastery and opened fire on the people running around. I witnessed my friends being killed right before my eyes on the street.”

 The shooting of civilians attempting to flee and the bombing of a site of religious, cultural and historical value suggest the attack was indiscriminate and should be investigated as a war crime.



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