Nigerian has charged the 26 crew members of the ship, MT HEROIC IDUN, suspected to have tried to access the Akpo Oilfield, deep offshore Bonny, a joint venture operated by Total Energies EP, to load crude oil at about midnight on August 7, 2022.
The arrival of the vessel to Nigerian, as well its departure, and eventual 3-months detention in Equatorial Guinea has been a subject of international maritime conversation, with the Nigerian Navy making claims pointing at actionable contraventions against the country.
The court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, has charged 26 men with conspiracy to commit a maritime offence and attempting to illegally deal in crude oil after authorities accused their supertanker of sailing in Nigerian waters without authority.
The captain is one of 16 Indian nationals on board, while the rest of the 26 crew members are from Poland, India, Sri-Lanka and Pakistan, court papers showed.
The Nigerian authorities had confirmed earlier that on its [Nigeria’s] request Equatorial Guinea detained the Heroic Idun, a vessel capable of carrying 2 million barrels of oil, on Aug. 17 for sailing without an identifying flag, fleeing from the Nigerian navy and sailing in Equatorial Guinean waters without prior authorization.
According to a Reuters report, after the [Monday and Tuesday] appearances, the judge ordered them the MT HEROIC IDUN crew to be detained on their ship under the guard of the Nigerian navy.
Part of the charge against the men is that they “attempted to deal with crude oil within the Nigeria Exclusive Economic zone without lawful authority”.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Navy, at a press briefing on August 7 when the altercation took place, confirmed as much that the vessel had not loaded any oil before the navy accosted.
The Navy however said the ship made a false claim of a piracy attack, entered a restricted area without authorization and attempted to load crude oil illegally.
Oil theft has taken more than 400,000 barrels per day from Nigeria’s oil output, hit state finances and knocked it from Africa’s top exporter to number two, the state oil firm says.
The Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), capable of carrying two million barrels of crude oil, has a length of 336 metres, a width of 60 metres, a draught of 11 metres and 299995 metric tonnes and IMO Number: 9858058.
It was built in 2020 and is currently sailing under the flag of Marshall Islands and owned by Messrs Idun Maritime Limited, with Messrs Inchcape Shipping as its agent in Nigeria, and OSM Ship Management AS as the vessel manager.
Naval Spokesman, Commodore Kayode Ayo-Vaughan, said expectedly, the crew members of the vessel shall be adjudged innocent until proven guilty.
“If the vessel is found innocent, it will be released. If it is found guilty of breaking the laws of Nigeria, the appropriate sanctions will be enforced, to send a strong message of deterrence.
“It is important for the Nigerian government to sustain its anti-crude oil theft efforts/operations for the prosperity of Nigeria as well as national security objectives,” the Navy spokesman said