Oil Theft: Embattled Ship, Crew Drag Nigeria to Court

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Embattled vessel, MT Heroic Idun, has taken to court, praying that the country should to be stopped from illegally executing its “extraordinary rendition” of their vessel from Equatorial Guinea to Nigeria.

The vessel has been a subject of international altercation, even as it seems really difficult to understand the issues at stake 

The vessel and the claim that there was no extradition treaty between and Equatorial Guinea, hence any alleged attempt to pressure the Central African nation to take them to Nigeria would be illegal and infringe on their rights under Nigerian and international laws.

They also described as false the claim by the Nigerian Navy that MT Heroic Idun attempted to illegally load from Akpo Terminal in Nigeria, whereas the Nigerian Navy had admitted in a statement published by the media that on August 19, 2022, when the vessel was accosted, no crude oil was found on the vessel.

According to them, the Equatorial Guinea Navy came under heavy pressure from their Nigerian counterpart to unlawfully arrest and detain the ship and crew, stressing that up till date, no wrong doing has been found against the vessel and crew.

Also Read: Curbing Oil Theft Has Helped Pipeline Availability, Nigeria LNG Says

MT Heroic Idun, with 26 persons onboard, comprising 16 Indians, eight Sri Lankans, a Pole and Filipino, was arrested on August 22, 2022 by the Equatorial Guinea Navy shortly after the boat left Nigerian waters.
Fearing their unlawful removal from Equatorial Guinea to Nigeria at the behest of Nigerian Navy, the 26 applicants and the vessel filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit marked FHC/ABJ/C8/2058/2022 through their counsel, Babajide Koku (SAN), praying the court to intervene.

The Federal Government, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Nigerian Navy are the respondents. The applicants declared in an affidavit in support of the originating application, that on July 18, 2022, the charterers of the vessel requested a Letter of Comfort from owners for loading at Akpo Terminal in Nigeria with August 17 and 18 laycan (dates for loading).

On August 4, 2022, the Charterers/Sub-Charterers instructed the vessel to proceed to Ceiba Marine Terminal to load a cargo of and then (head) to Rotterdam in Holland to discharge the cargo, following which laycan was narrowed to August 8, 2022.

The ship and stated that the sub-charterers likely failed to inform the terminal of this change and/or to ensure that the correct paperwork was put in place.

The plaintiffs stated that the vessel master was concerned that if he arrived at the Akpo Terminal in Nigeria early, that he would be in the country’s high-risk zone, thus, he obtained permission to stay around 200 miles offshore, waiting final confirmation of the load port laycan and that these instructions were confirmed on August 4.

Also Read: Oil Theft: Another ‘Rouging’ Vessel Unsettles Nigerian Navy

The applicants held that on August 8, following arrival, the vessel was ordered by the terminal to move outside of the 10nm Maritime Identification Zone of the terminal because cargo nominations or naval clearances for the vessel had yet to be provided.

They declared that at about 9:00p.m, the ship was contacted by the terminal security and was informed that there may be a Nigerian naval vessel approaching them.

They averred that when the Nigerian Navy told them to follow it to the Bonny fairway buoy for investigation, MT Heroic Idun declined because its Master feared that moving close to the Nigerian shore at night was too risky because of concerns.

There was also confusion over the name of the Nigerian vessel, which at that time was misspelt as “Agola” and could not be found on Google as a registered naval vessel. The agents were also contacted, and they too advised not to follow the orders of the vessel.

They added that the Navy vessel was requested to turn its AIS on but did not, this caused further concerns on board MT Heroic Idun ashore. The master decided to move out of the area at full speed while the situation was continuously assessed.

The Nigerian Navy subsequently issued a press release confirming that no oil was loaded, yet the vessel has been held ever since. The claimants stated that the interdiction by Equatorial Guinea was unlawful and breached UNCLOS 58, 87, 97 and 100 relating to innocent passage and right to be on the high seas without interference.

Also Read: Oil Theft: Nigeria Lacks Facility To Detect An Approaching Vessel On The Sea – NPA Boss

On the other hand, the Navy alleged that the vessel invaded the Akpo Oil Field without any form of authorisation or clearance, but fled without lifting any crude when it sensed the presence of a Navy vessel before it was apprehended at Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea.

Chief of Policy and Plans, Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Saidu Garba, said: “The brazen act of defiance to constituted authority by the captain of the vessel necessitated the Nigerian Navy to invoke the collaboration of neighbouring Equatorial Guinea through the Yaoundé Architecture to arrest the vessel as we noticed that it was making its way in the Equatorial Guinea waters.

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