Foreign Firms Still Aiding Aviation Fuel Shipments to Myanmar Military

Recent Features

ASEAN Beat | Economy | Southeast Asia

Foreign Firms Still Aiding Aviation Fuel Shipments to Myanmar Military

Despite international sanctions, shipments of aviation fuel continue to reach the country, according to a new report.

Foreign Firms Still Aiding Aviation Fuel Shipments to Myanmar Military
Credit: Depositphotos

Shipments of aviation fuel continue to reach military-ruled Myanmar with the involvement of companies from Asia and Europe, a new report claims, even as junta air raids continue to drive thousands of civilians from their homes.

In a short report published today, Amnesty International, Global Witness, and Burma Campaign UK said that they had identified more foreign companies involved in supplying the Myanmar Air Force with fuel, following a recent Amnesty report that examined the role of foreign and multinational companies in the country’s aviation fuel supply chains.

“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 air strikes,” Montse Ferrer, Amnesty International’s researcher and adviser on business and human rights, said in a statement accompanying the report’s release.

“Since the military’s coup in 2021, it has brutally suppressed its critics and attacked civilians from the ground and the air. Supplies of aviation fuel reaching the military enable these war crimes. These shipments must stop now.”

Since not long after the military takeover, activists have been calling for foreign governments to restrict the military’s access to aviation fuel. The requests have grown more urgent as the military junta, struggling to quash the nationwide resistance to its rule, has used its air force against civilian populations in various parts of the country. According to the United Nations, the military carried out at least 670 air attacks last year, 12 times more than the 54 recorded in 2021. Statistics from the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security that were cited in the Amnesty statement claimed that the military conducted 243 air strikes in 2022, up from 104 the year before.

Today’s report follows an investigation into the aviation fuel supply chain that Amnesty published last November, with support from other Myanmar-focused civil society groups. This revealed that fuel intended for civilian aviation was being diverted to the military. It also documented how shipments from foreign firms, including major oil companies like ExxonMobil, Thai Oil, PetroChina, and Rosneft, had facilitated the Myanmar air force’s devastating attacks on civilian populations.

One shipment documented in the new report involved the oil tanker Prime Vwhich sailed from Sikka in India on November 28 of last year, and later offloaded Jet A-1 grade aviation fuel terminal in the port of Thilawa in Myanmar. The report identified a number of foreign firms involved in the transaction, including Reliance Industries Ltd of India, which owns the terminal from which Prime V departed; Sea Trade Marine, a Greek company, which is the beneficial owner of Prime V; and Japan’s P&I Club, which provided it with protection and indemnity insurance. The report also documented a similar separate shipment that left the Bangchak Oil Refinery in Bangkok Port in Thailand around October 8 and unloaded a cargo of jet fuel at Thilawa a week or so later. The report claimed that this shipment involved companies based in Thailand and Luxembourg.

The fuel terminal in Thilawa was previously operated by Puma Energy Aviation Sun Co. Ltd. (PEAS), which was largely owned by the global commodity trading giant Trafigura. Amnesty’s report from last year described Puma Energy as “the main foreign business involved in the handling, storage, and distribution of aviation fuel in Myanmar.”

Puma Energy announced last October it was withdrawing from Myanmar after selling its assets to a “locally owned private company,” which it said would ensure compliance with human rights standards. But the eventual buyer of the assets was a Myanmar-based firm called Shoon Energy, previously known as Asia Sun Aviation, several members of which have been sanctioned by the United Kingdom and European Union. Given the close relationship between Shoon Energy and the Myanmar military, Amnesty said that Puma’s assurance of human rights compliance was “essentially meaningless.”

Compared to the large oil companies named in Amnesty’s report in November, the firms identified in the report are relatively marginal, and in some cases involved only tangentially in the supply chain, such as in the provision of insurance for fuel shipments. This speaks to the complexity of the global supply chains that connect Myanmar’s military to a constellation of outside suppliers, insurance brokers, sub-contractors, and maritime transport services, something that has both advantages and drawbacks for those seeking to choke off the military’s access to vital resources like fuel.

While the Tatmadaw’s reliance on international supply chains creates a potential pressure point for outside actors, especially powerful Western governments, unpicking this tangle of interdependencies can be both practically and politically difficult.