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Nigeria Navy Yet to Free ‘Rogue’ Oil Vessel, Its 26 Crew Members

The Nigerian Navy is yet to release a large sea oil vessel and its 26 foreign crew members who pleaded guilty to attempting to steal crude oil in the Niger Delta, almost 10 months after their arrest. 

The vessel, MT Heroic Idun, was impounded after it was accosted with the assistance of the Equatorial Guinean Navy on August 7, 2022 while fleeing from Nigerian waters. 

“The vessel with the crew was not only suspicious but also had intent to commit a crime against the nation,” Navy Information Director Commodore A. O Ayo-Vaughan explained in a statement  on Tuesday as he sought to clear the air on the vessels seizure. 

The 26 foreign crew members pleaded guilty in court. However, the Nigerian court requested them to enter a plea bargain deal. The plea bargain was in the interest of justice, the public and for public policy interest.  

Upon the acceptance of the plea bargain, both parties agreed on the fulfilment of the conditions before any release could be made.  

Fines and public apology

After the conviction and sentencing in line with the agreed terms, the vessel, along with its owners were to pay fines and apologise in writing.

On its part, Nigeria agreed not to further criminally prosecute and/or investigate the vessel, its owners or crew. 

it was reveald that the vessel’s captain, having duly responded to Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Gongola, later failed to comply with the navy ship’s order to proceed to Bonny Anchorage to await papers from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), but instead altered course southward and proceeded at top speed towards the Nigeria-Sao Tome Joint Development Zone.  

The vessel reported its encounter with NNS Gongola to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) as a pirate attack, but this was later refuted by IMB.

MT Heroic Idun was tracked by the Nigerian Navy and it was eventually seized by the Equatorial Guinean authorities based on a formal request by Nigeria. The vessel was afterwards transferred back to Nigeria on November 12, 2022.  

Nigeria on 10 January 2023 charged the vessel and the crew.  

Uninformed sympathisers

The navy, in a statement, criticised what it described as “mischief makers and uninformed hypocritical sympathisers”, saying that the vessel’s presence in NME on August 7, 2022 was illegal.  

“The Nigerian Navy assures Nigerians it will ensure zero tolerance to crude oil theft and other criminal activities in the country’s maritime.  We shall continue to work in synergy with other maritime stakeholders and strategic partners of Nigeria to ensure we derive maximum benefit from our natural resources in the maritime area. No form of campaign of calumny or malicious online publications will distract us from this unwavering commitment,” Ayo-Vaughan said.  

Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo on Tuesday also spoke on the issue. He confirmed that the 26 crew members were citizens of India, Sri-Lanka, Pakistan and Poland. 

“The vessel and its crew members will not be released until the penalty and restitution are paid as well as public apologies made,” Gambo said.

“The successful arraignment and conviction of Mt Heroic Idun and her crew is a resilient indication that the Nigerian Navy will stop at nothing to ensure the domain is safer for sustainable development of the nation’s blue economy,” he added.

Source : Theeastafrican