The 26 seafarers are currently being held in Nigeria and face charges for alleged involvement in oil theft and ‘faking’ a piracy attack in breach of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act. However, the ships owners have confirmed that there has been no unlawful activity. The treatment and welfare of the 26 crew members is of upmost importance with several of the crew suffering with typhoid fever and malaria.
The very large crude carrier (VLCC) tanker Heroic Idun (IMO: 9858058) was authorised to load at Akpo oil field in the Niger Delta in late July. The British oil giant was subcontracting the ship to take the load and has expressed its support for the crew.
“These seafarers have been subjected to lengthy detentions and unfair legal action apparently because of a mix-up,” said Dave Heindel, ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair and Co-Chair of the FPCSG. “Some have been held in appalling conditions and interrogated without charge. They have been denied legal help. Their basic human rights have been infringed and that’s something the ITF will not stand for.”
The theft that never took place
This month, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Nigeria ordered the detention of all crew members for alleged involvement in oil theft. The seafarers face five charges under the various Nigerian statutes including the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act 2019.
The crew initially faced three charges, but the court later amended this to five charges including: dealing in export crude oil without a licence; entering a restricted zone; falsely reporting piracy; refusing lawful orders from maritime authorities; and violation of customs laws. The seafarers pleaded not guilty.
The charges have been laid despite the fact the tanker was never loaded with oil and was seized outside Nigeria’s legal jurisdiction.
The Marshal Islands, where the ship is registered, initiated a case against Equatorial Guinea for the illegal seizure at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, in Hamburg, Germany on 10 November 2022.
“The way these seafarers have been treated is outrageous,” said Heindel. “There are rules under international law for dealing with crimes at sea, that both Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea appear to have completely ignored.”
“Nigeria must recognise the complete lack of evidence in this case and free the crew immediately. Their arrest, continued detention and possible lengthy legal battle is a complete miscarriage of justice.”
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping added:
“This unacceptable detention of the Heroic Idun crew must be resolved as quickly as possible. It is essential that this situation is de-escalated, and that the seafarers and ship are released. Christmas is fast approaching, and we ask that the Nigerian authorities urgently review this case rather than waiting until next year.”
According to the ship’s owners, Idun Maritime:
- Late July: The Heroic Idun (IMO: 9858058) was authorised to load at Akpo oil field in the Niger Delta. BP was subcontracting the vessel.
- August 8: The Heroic Idun arrived at Akpo on 8 August 2022. The terminal said it had not received confirmation of the final quantity of oil from NNPC (formerly the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) and the vessel was asked to stand at anchorage for a few days.
- Night of August 8: The vessel was approached by a launch whose identity could not be verified as its automatic identification system was turned off. The master suspected it may be pirates trying to board the ship, and after consulting with the owners and the company’s specialist piracy insurers, sailed away from the danger. The master immediately reported a potential piracy incident which is considered best practice for an oil tanker in that area (it later transpired that the launch was a Nigerian naval vessel).
- August 11: The Akpo terminal advised the Heroic Idun that it now had NNPC clearance to load on 17 August.
- August 12: The NNPC reversed the order and advised the vessel not to enter.
- August 12: While passing through the exclusive economic zone of Sao Tome and Principe, the vessel was intercepted by the navy of Equatorial Guinea and ordered to proceed to Luba Bay. The crew was split up. Fifteen were taken ashore and interrogated for up to 14 hours. They were denied access to legal representation. The seafarers remained in detention ashore or on board for nearly three months. No formal charge nor arrest was ever made.
- November 11: Nigerian authorities moved the vessel and crew to Bonny Offshore Terminal, Gulf of Guinea in Nigeria, escorted by a navy gunboat and armed guards. It appears that Equatorial Guinea permitted this despite never having arrested or charged any of the crew.
- November: The Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Nigeria ordered the detention of all crew members for alleged involvement in oil theft. The seafarers face five charges under the various Nigerian statutes including the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act 2019. The charges include dealing in export crude oil without a licence; entering a restricted zone; falsely reporting piracy; refusing lawful orders from maritime authorities; and violation of customs laws. The seafarers pleaded not guilty.