Lagos — The Federal Government is under intense pressure from certain quarters to release the rogue tanker; MT HEROIC IDUN, which was arrested on August 12, 2022, in Equatorial Guinea shortly after fleeing Nigerian waters; after a failed attempt to lift crude oil without clearance and also raising false alarm that it was being pursued by sea pirates.
The crew, owners and insurers of the Very Large Crude Carrier eventually lost their bid to keep the tanker out of the hands of the Nigeria Navy.
The Nigerian Navy secured the return of the ship to Nigeria for prosecution after providing evidence that it unlawfully called at an offshore facility in the nation’s EEZ.
Confirming the development, the Naval spokesperson; Commodore Adedotun Olukayode Ayo-Vaughan confirmed that there has been a push for a plea bargaining but said the process has not yet been firmed up, this is even as he disclosed that the next court hearing has been fixed for 28th of April 2023.
The Navy thereafter moved the tanker from Bioko in Equatorial Guinea, where it was under arrest back to Nigerian waters, where it was moored at the Bonny Offshore Terminal.
The Navy also told our correspondent, that there has been a push for out-of-court settlement by the Ambassadors of the various countries of the detained crew members of the ship.
The 16 foreign crew members, who are citizens of Poland, India, Sri-Lanka, and Pakistan as well as 10 others were charged to court by the federal government on three counts.
According to the Ayo-Vaughan, the charges border on unlawful entrance into Akpo oil field in Nigeria, raising false piracy alarm to avoid arrest and an attempt to lift crude oil without clearance thereby violating sections of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act 2019.
He said, “the case is in court, the last hearing was held on the 11th of April, and it has been adjourned to 28th of April”.
Recall that the court had in November 2022, ordered that all the 26 crew members of the vessel be remanded inside the ship until the commencement of their trial.
“Recall also that the crew is majorly Indian and all of them are facing the charges, so that’s the position as per update on Heroic Idun.”
“The charges brought against them border on unlawful entrance into Akpo oil field, raising false piracy alarm to avoid arrest and an attempt to lift crude oil without clearance.
“Although there has been a push for plea bargaining and out-of- court settlement, a lot of Ambassadors have tried to make case for them, but it has not yet been firmed up.
Corroborating the Naval spokesperson, the Director General Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Dr. Bashir Jamoh in a recent chat with our correspondent also confirmed that there has been push for an out-of-court settlement, and that the process is yet to be concluded.
“We are in court and the owners came and said we want out of court settlement, but the process is yet to be firmed up. The court adjourned till 28th of this month. We will now come out with a harmonized position to settle the matter” he disclosed.
Reacting to the planned out of court settlement of the crew members, former President of the Nigerian Indigenous Shipowners Association, NISA, Chief Isaac Jolapamo said that there are commercial transactions such that when the law is breached, the crew and the vessel do not have to be detained.
Jolapamo explained that the owners of the vessel could be made to enter into some kind of bond while the court case continues.
He said: “You can have a bond for the vessel to leave and continue trading, it is only in Nigeria that vessels are detained while the case is going on. Detaining the vessel is tying peoples’ investment down. Detention is no more in vogue.
It is only in Nigeria that you can keep peoples’ vessels for three years and at the end of the day, these vessels take in water depreciate in value.
Also speaking, the president National Association of Master Mariners (NAMM) Capt. Tajudeen Alao agreed that the crew members should be released on plea bargaining.
He argued that seafarers should not be punished for a crime they are not guilty of, even as he stated that the Nigerian Navy should rather go after the vessel owners and stop the criminalization of the seafarers.
According to him, “We are players in international market and there is a general agreement by ILO, IMO that seafarers shouldn’t be punished for such crime.
“They are not the owners of the vessels, they should go for the owners, they should not look at seafarers as criminals, they should go after the big men.
“So, they can track the cargo instead of punishing seafarers and discouraging seafarers from going to the sea, which is not good, they are treating them like criminals. By now, Nigeria should have put up a standard procedure to handle this kind of matter”, he said.
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