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The Jian Seng was an 80-meter tanker of unknown origin that was spotted drifting 180 km south-west of Weipa, Queensland in the Gulf of Carpentaria by an Australian Coastwatch aeroplane in 2006. Photographs were taken and analysed at the Australian Customs Service, which dispatched the Australian Customs vessel Storm Bay immediately.

The Storm Bay arrived during the night and waited until morning before launching a tender to board the vessel, which was drifting in uncharted waters. There was no sign of recent human activity found aboard, nor any signs that it had been engaged in illegal fishing or people smuggling. A spokesman for Australian Customs addressed the media on March 24, 2006, stating that they had been unable to obtain documentary evidence of its registration or origin port at this stage, but materials recovered indicated the vessel was the Jian Seng, though the name and identifying features had been painted over.

A large quantity of rice was found on board, leading the boarding party to believe the vessel was probably used as a resupply ship for fishing boats with food and fuel in waters outside the Australian exclusive economic zone which had broken tow and drifted to its current position. The boarding party asserted that it had been adrift for an exceptionally long time before being found, and that the engines were inoperable and incapable of being restarted. The boarding party also reported that it was drifting slowly southwards. The ship had been extensively stripped, suggesting that it may have been on its way to a scrapyard when its towline broke.

The patrol boat Storm Bay monitored the ship for several days before a decision was made to tow it to the nearest harbor. A salvage tug towed the ship to Weipa, on Cape York, where oily water which posed an environmental hazard was removed. Since no owner of the ship could ever be located, it was towed to deep water on April 21, 2006 and scuttled.

Political implications

Chris Ellison, Minister for Justice and Customs, claimed that the detection of this vessel illustrates the effectiveness of response in detection of ships breaching Australian borders, alleging it was detected in a remote stretch of Australian waters and photographed by a Customs airplane, which returned to base with the photos whilst a vessel was immediately dispatched. This was debated by Senator Joseph William Ludwig, claiming that the fact it was not intercepted earlier is an extraordinary feat when one considers how far south it had entered into the gulf. The area in which it was found is notorious for illegal Indonesian fishing vessels and for people or drug smuggling operations. Senator Ludwig alleged that Australian Customs had claimed this was a region they had specifically been targeting, and then asked how they can hope to intercept illegal fishing boats when a massive tanker was objectively missed for such a potentially long period of time.

References

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