Indonesia Shipyard Riot Exaggerated: Singapore Firm

Singapore. A riot at a Singapore firm’s Batam shipyard on Tuesday was nowhere near as serious as media reports claimed, the company said on Wednesday.

Beng Kuang Marine said the violence involved only around 20 workers and security officers — not 1,000 workers, as claimed in some press reports.

All those involved were Indonesians hired by sub-contractors, it said. Employees went back to work at the yard in the Kabil area in eastern Batam on Wednesday.

Beng Kuang is a Singapore-listed company which owns Nexus Engineering Indonesia, the operator of the shipyard.

Suri Teo, Nexus’ administrative manager, said the majority of its 2,000-strong workforce were bystanders and were not involved in the unrest.

The brawl — which he said went on for an hour but police claimed lasted less than that — was sparked by a quarrel between two workers and security officers. The workers were said to have reported to work five minutes later than the daily 7am start time. They were then escorted to the guardroom to fill out a document.

The quarrel began after the guards — who included military personnel — used harsh words on the laborers, Nongsa sub-regency police chief Robertus Herry told The Straits Times.

Some companies in Indonesia outsource security functions to the Indonesian military.

One worker was allegedly beaten up by a guard. This prompted several of the pair’s colleagues who were nearby to join in, said Teo. One of them torched personal computers in an office and a motorcycle parked outside the shipyard.

The other rioters overturned tables and chairs in offices. Several windows were smashed, and the equipment in a medical clinic was damaged.

But a day after the disturbance, the 32ha shipyard was a picture of calm yesterday. As construction work on barges continued about 250m away, workers were cleaning up the damage at the charred security office.

A makeshift security point has been put up, consisting of four chairs placed outside the main gate; yellow tape marked the damaged areas.

Wilson Neo, the assistant general manager and one of about 30 Singaporeans stationed on-site, said there was nothing to worry about.

But as a precaution, about 10 of Major Robertus’ policemen have been stationed near the shipyard’s entrance, and will be there for three to four more days.

Reports that the mob stripped a military officer and threw his clothes onto the roof, and that 500 policemen were called in, were also untrue, Maj. Robertus said. Only about 20, including himself, rushed to the scene from police headquarters, about a 10-minute drive away.

‘We reached there by about 7.15am and most were just shouting and throwing stones. We dispersed the crowd,’ the 36-year-old said.

All workers were asked to go home and the yard was closed for the day. Five people were taken to police headquarters for questioning, but all have since been released. The worker who was allegedly beaten up did not pursue the issue and investigations have ended with no arrests made, Robertus said.

Tuesday’s riot was a reminder of the one at the Dubai-owned Drydocks World Graha construction yard in Batam last year. That incident was apparently caused by an Indian supervisor calling Indonesian workers ‘stupid’.

Then, 5,000 local workers torched about 20 cars and targeted Indians working in Batam. Nine workers were injured and operations stopped for a month.

In a statement to the Singapore Exchange last night, Beng Kuang Marine said the Kabil shipyard ‘has resumed operation and workers were back to work’.

Apart from the torched motorcycle and furniture in the guardhouse and another room that was damaged, there was no damage to offices, warehouses or yard equipment, it added. The incident is also not expected to have ‘any material adverse effect on the group’s operations and financial performance’.

The firm’s executive director (finance and corporate development) Alan Yong said it was the first time it had encountered a mass brawl on its premises. He said the company is looking at its security operations to see if ‘any more improvements can be made’.

‘We ultimately want a safe and trouble-free work site for all our workers,’ he said.

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