Equatorial Guinea has said it will send the Heroic Idun VLCC, and crew, to Nigeria, where they may stand trial for charges related to potential oil theft.
Equatorial Guinea Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue said he had authorised the release of the ship to Nigeria.
OSM Group is the manager of the vessel. It put out a statement saying that it had paid a fine at the end of September “against a promise of release of the vessel and its crew. However, both the ship and crew remain in captivity.”
There are 26 members of the crew in captivity, including 16 from India. Another eight are from Sri Lanka, with the last two from Poland and the Philippines.
While plans to transfer the ship and crew to Nigeria are under discussion, they do not appear to have taken place.
Latest Update #HeroicIdun:
15 crew member including master have been brought to detention facility in Malabo and they are holding us here.We do not know whats happening no one is telling us anything.We have no food and water.We suspect that we will be sent to Nigeria by airplane. pic.twitter.com/4S2JFG2fyC
— All India Seafarers Union (@AllSeafarers) November 8, 2022
OSM CEO Finn Amund Norbye said the two West African governments had treated the crew as criminals. There had been no formal charges, or legal process, for nearly three months.
“It is nothing short of a shocking maritime injustice,” he said. The transfer of the ship to Nigeria diminishes “the chance of any swift resolution”, he continued.
“We must now see urgent action to resolve this situation! For the sake of our 26 seafarers, OSM and its stakeholders will continue to work tirelessly with all parties able to assist us with this concerning situation.”
An Indian MP, AA Rahim, has called on the Indian government to intervene urgently.
The Heroic Idun VLCC was arrested in August. The ship had attempted to load at the Akpo terminal.
The Nigerian Navy had demanded authorisation from the vessel. The captain opted to flee instead. The VLCC evaded the Nigerian Navy, but the forces of Equatorial Guinea stopped the ship.
OSM said the Heroic Idun had been waiting for clearance papers when the Nigerian Navy approached under cover of darkness. The vessel believed this “to be an attempted piracy attack”. The VLCC’s move to leave the area and head for international waters was in line with best management practice, the group said.
Ship tracking information suggest the VLCC remains offshore Bioko Island.
Rahim noted that the crew had suffered “severe mental distress and deterioration of physical health”. A video circulating on social media confirms this.
Captain Tanuj Mehta, in the video, said he had suffered from typhoid and malaria while in Equatorial Guinea. “It has not been a pleasant experience,” he said. The captain said the transfer of the vessel and crew to Nigeria was illegal.
Chief officer Sanu Jose said that inspectors had not found any oil on the ship. “We want to go back to our families,” he said.
The Indian embassy in Equatorial Guinea, and High Commission in Nigeria, have said they are “working closely” with the local governments “for the early release of crew members”.
Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper quoted a Navy representative as saying the VLCC’s accusation of piracy was “clearly aimed at tarnishing” the country’s reputation.
The VLCC captain refused to co-operate with the Nigerian Navy, the spokesman said, once he had ben in touch with the shipping agent.
“Thereafter, she engaged full speed southwards towards the Sao Tome and Principe maritime area in a bid to evade arrest,” the newspaper cited the official as saying.
Dr Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood, an academic at St Andrews, expressed criticism of “a sense of entitlement from a select few in the shipping industry”. She said OSM had not tackled the question of the VLCC’s false alarm.
“When we talk about the rule of law and justice in the maritime space, it is not justice for the few. Illegal activity, regardless of the perpetrators, must be condemned,” Okafor-Yarwood said in a LinkedIn post.