The large-scale collapse of OW Bunker and the huge repercussions ind the global maritime industry may have been avoided if Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) had acted promtly on a series of warnings from a whistleblower.
Long before the bunker company collapsed in November 2014, the MPA received clear warnings about oil trader Dennis Tan's business methods in the major Asian bunker hub. Tan's bunker company Tankoil ultimately wound up costing OW Bunker more than USD 110 million and thus in effect dealt the final blow that led to the company's bankruptcy.
This is evident from documents that Danish TV2 News has gained access to.
The documents hail from whistleblower organization Iceberg Research, which entered the field in early 2015 with critical reports about Asia's largest commodity company, Noble Group.
ShippingWatch has viewed copies of e-mails sent to the executive management of the MPA, of which the first one was forwarded to the authorities 16 months prior to the bankruptcy. ShippingWatch was contacted also by the whistleblower in the weeks following the OW Bunker collapse, but the organization at the time declined to present its documentation. As such, this latest development marks the first insight into the correspondence that took place between Iceberg Research and the MPA.
The first e-mail with unambiguous warning about Tankoil, previously Petrotec, is dated July 19th 2013, around a year and a half before the bankruptcy of OW Bunker. The mail explains to an MPA manager how Noble and Petrotec, owned by Dennis Tan, do business.
The oil was traded numerous times between the two parties, and in the end Petrotec would deliver less oil or lower quality oil than agreed upon with carriers.
It then appears that so little happens in the following months that Iceberg Research in March 2014 seems to be losing faith that the MPA will handle the case. This makes the head of the MPA, Andrew Tan, send a short message from his iPhone on March 3rd at 5.18 PM:
"What is this about?" he asks, according to the printout of the e-mails.
The answer to Iceberg Research, however, remains the same, namely that the authorities are monitoring Tankoil and will take all the necessary steps if evidence surfaces that the company has acted in breach of its license.
In terms of the Tankoil case, the MPA informs that the authority, after performing routine checks in 2013 and 2014, found violations of the company's license as bunker supplier, and that this "resulted in the company's licenses being withdrawn in 2015."
Tankoil's license was revoked on February 9th 2015, three months and two days after the bankruptcy of OW Bunker, informed the MPA at the time.
Since Tankoil had its license revoked, neither OW Bunker or the Singapore authorities have filed cases against the company's owner and CEO, Dennis Tan. He has however become embroiled in a court case involving bunker company Gulf Petroleum, and in the summer 2015 he reached a settlement in a case against Noble Group in which he was charged with fraud totaling millions of dollars.
Iceberg Research has supplied documentation to TV2 on the condition that, though covered, the documentation is not published, and the organization's anonymity is maintained.
TV2 has elected to meet these demands out of a wish to share relevant information about the events ahead of the OW Bunker bankruptcy.
The news media has requested an interview with the MPA about the case, but the authority has responded solely by commenting that "the country takes a very serious stance on corruption and criminal activity, and that it will act promptly."
ShippingWatch is trying to get a comment from the MPA.