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Myanmar: Shipping companies still transporting aviation fuel despite war crimes - new evidence

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Recent shipments have involved companies based in Thailand, India, Japan, Greece, Luxembourg, Singapore and Switzerland

Myanmar military has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in the past two years, with numerous civilians killed

‘Supplies of aviation fuel reaching the military enable these war crimes’ - Montse Ferrer

'We urge anyone involved in this trade to put people before profits’ - Hanna Hindstrom

Aviation fuel shipments to Myanmar have continued despite the military’s ongoing war crimes, Amnesty International and Global Witness said today (1 March), after they and Burma Campaign UK identified several companies involved in aviation fuel transactions which are likely to have reached the military in recent months.

One shipment involved the oil tanker Prime V, which sailed from Sikka in India on 28 November. On or about 10 December, Prime V offloaded Jet A-1 grade aviation fuel at the former Puma Energy Aviation Sun Co. Ltd. (PEAS) terminal in the port of Thilawa in Myanmar.

One of the companies involved in this transaction was Reliance Industries Ltd of India, which owns the terminal from which Prime V departed. Sea Trade Marine, a Greek company, is the beneficial owner of Prime V, while Japan’s P&I Club provided the protection and indemnity insurance. Amnesty contacted the companies, yet only Japan P&I Club responded, saying that it complied with applicable sanctions at the time and that its insurance cover may be terminated if a vessel is involved in illegal activity. There is no suggestion that the Prime V broke applicable laws in this delivery.

Details of an October shipment have also been obtained, showing that the tanker Big Sea 104 left the Bangchak Oil Refinery in Bangkok Port in Thailand on or about 8 October. It arrived at Thilawa about a week later and offloaded 12,592 tonnes of Jet A-1 at the former PEAS terminal, according to data from the commodities information company Kpler. The refinery from which the ship departed is owned by publicly-listed Thai company Bangchak Corporation Plc. Prima Marine Plc, another Thai company, is the beneficial owner of Big Sea 104, while Luxembourg-based The Shipowners’ P&I Club provided the insurance. None of these companies responded to Amnesty’s letters.

According to the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, the military has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in the past two years - 104 in 2021, and 243 in 2022.

Montse Ferrer, Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Researcher, said:

“We have traced new shipments of aviation fuel that have likely ended up in the hands of Myanmar’s military, which has consistently conducted unlawful airstrikes. These attacks regularly kill civilians, including children, yet planes can only take off if they have fuel.

“Since the military’s coup in 2021, it has brutally supressed its critics and attacked civilians from the ground and air. Supplies of aviation fuel reaching the military enable these war crimes.

“Each of these companies played a role in ensuring the Myanmar military continues to have access to aviation fuel to conduct unlawful airstrikes. This has to end. All companies should stop their involvement in the aviation fuel supply chain to Myanmar.”

Hanna Hindstrom, Senior Investigator at Global Witness, which helped conduct the research, said:

“We urge anyone involved in this trade to put people before profits and to cease supplying the fuel that facilitates these atrocities. We call on more states to enact or reinforce controls to prevent these supplies.

“The international community has the tools in place to enact these restrictions. We should do what is in our power to reduce the Myanmar military’s capacity for terrorising civilians.”

Sale of Puma Energy’s Myanmar assets

At the time these two shipments arrived, the port terminal was controlled by the Myanmar subsidiary of Swiss and Singapore-based Puma Energy. Last October, Puma Energy said it was withdrawing from Myanmar after selling its assets to what it called a “locally owned private company” from which it claimed to have obtained undertakings to comply with “human rights laws” and not use assets to commit human rights violations.

Amnesty has established that this buyer is Shoon Energy, formerly called Asia Sun Aviation, and that the sale was completed in December. Shoon Energy is part of a Myanmar business conglomerate called Asia Sun, which has imported aviation fuel on behalf of the military and distributed it to air bases.

Following Puma Energy’s departure, this conglomerate now manages the main aviation fuel terminal in Thilawa port, Yangon, and, jointly with military-controlled Myanmar Petroleum Products Enterprise, the import and distribution of aviation fuel across the country.

Montse Ferrer said:

“It is troubling that the Swiss-registered multinational fuel company Puma Energy, which committed to withdraw from Myanmar in October 2022, decided to sell its aviation fuel assets to a Myanmar business group which has imported fuel for the military.

“Puma Energy has stated that the buyer of its Myanmar assets has undertaken to ‘comply with human rights law’. However, given the close relationship between Shoon Energy and the Myanmar military we are concerned this assurance is essentially meaningless.”

Last month, the UK and EU imposed sanctions on individuals and companies behind the Asia Sun group for their ties to the provision of aviation fuel to the Myanmar air force. However, ahead of these sanctions the Asia Sun conglomerate changed several of its companies’ names to Shoon Energy.

International sanctions

On 1 February, the second anniversary of the 2021 military coup, Canada and the UK announced new measures to prevent aviation fuel from reaching the military, including targeted sanctions on Myanmar companies and individuals. Soon after, the EU sanctioned Asia Sun group and associated entities Asia Sun Trading and Asia Sun Energy.

In response to Amnesty’s investigations for its November 2022 report Deadly Cargo, the global shipping company Wilhelmsen said it would cease providing shipping services to any vessel transporting aviation fuel to Myanmar. Korean Pan Ocean has also said it would no longer allow its vessels to transport aviation fuel to Myanmar, and Thai Oil said it would put on hold any shipments of aviation fuel to Myanmar.

Amnesty and Global Witness have previously called for countries to suspend the export and transport of aviation fuel to Myanmar. Importantly, they should also suspend the provision of third-party services such as insurance, shipping or financial services to vessels involved in this trade.

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