An undisclosed Taiwanese buyer has emerged as the victor at an auction of a small chemical/product tanker that became infamous in Singapore for the role it played in one of the biggest fuel oil theft scandals of recent times.

The 12,000-dwt Prime South (built 2009) was sold for a knock-down price of $4.3m, according to brokers in the city-state who have followed the auction process.

The sale was unusual as it was the Singapore Police Force rather than the High Court that auctioned the ship.

Real-estate company Knight Frank, which the police frequently uses to dispose of assets seized for being used in the commission of a crime, conducted the auction.

Although VesselsValue estimated the Prime South to be worth $7.2m if in trading condition, court documents indicated that the STX-built ship, which has been laid up in a dead state, had been valued at $4.5m by surveyors prior to the auction.

The lower estimate was a result of the ship having been disclassed by the Korean Register in 2019, at which the time it required a special survey and drydocking.

The police seized the Prime South in 2018 on suspicion of the vessel having received stolen marine gas oil from the Shell refinery on Pulau Bukom, the oil major’s largest petrochemical production and export facility in Asia.

Investigations revealed that between 2017 and 2018, the tanker had received stolen marine gas oil estimated to be worth around $7.1m from the refinery.

The thefts were part of a larger heist carried out by former Shell employees that led to the misappropriation of oil valued at $36.1m in total.

For its part in the heist, the Prime South was ordered forfeited on 9 October 2020 by the state courts, which citied Vietnamese owner Prime Shipping Corp’s complicity in the offences.

Prime Shipping appealed the forfeiture, but the High Court affirmed this decision in February, noting that there was strong justification for the forfeiture.

The master and chief officer of the Prime South were convicted of conspiring with others to dishonestly receive stolen marine gas oil and sentenced to prison terms of 70 months and 30 months, respectively.