INDIA. Mumbai: Twenty-six seafarers, including 16 Indians, on board Crude Oil Tanker-“MT Heroic Idun” have been detained by Equatorial Guinea, the Central African country, since August, for alleged violation of the maritime boundary, with no sign of their early release.
In a letter dated November 6, to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Rajya Sabha MP AA Rahim has sought his “urgent intervention” to ensure the release of the 16 Indian crew members detained illegally.
After being detained the authorities in Equatorial Guinea conducted the investigation and made the ship to pay a heavy fine with an assurance to release the ship on September 28.
“The owners of the ship paid the fine. But the crew was not released. Although the crew have not been ill-treated, their continued detention has caused mental distress and has led to the deterioration of their health. Now it is said that they are being handed over to the Nigerian authorities. This has caused further panic,” Rahim stated.
The Indian embassy in Equatorial Guinea in a tweet on Monday stated, “This Embassy and our High Commission in Abuja are closely working with authorities of Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria for the early release of the crew who are safe and those who were in the Detention Centre have now been shifted to the ship.”
As per media reports dated August 21, the Chief of Policy and Plans, Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Saidu Garba, stated, “While monitoring the maritime domain on August 7, it was observed that a large crude oil carrier MT Heroic Idun entered the Nigerian maritime environment and headed for Akpo Field without any form of authorisation.”
“The vessel was inspected by the Nigerian Navy Inshore Patrol Craft, NNS Gongola, when the captain of the vessel stated that the ship was without clearance to operate in the field. As such the vessel was ordered to follow NNS Gongola to Bonny anchorage,” he added.
However, after contacting the master/shipping agent, the Captain stated that he had been told not to take directives from the Nigerian Navy Ship.
He also broadcasted a false piracy attack call to IMB Piracy Reporting Centre to mislead mariners that NNS Gongola was a pirate vessel.
As such the Equatorial Guinea Amphibious Ship, “Captain David” was vectored to intercept and arrest MT Heroic Idun on August 12. The vessel is currently being held at Luba Anchorage in Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea where the country is conducting her investigations, while we await diplomatic procedures for handing over the vessel to the Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Saidu Garba had said.
All India Seafarers Union in a tweet stated that the crew are accused of being involved in crude oil racketeering.
OSM Statement on Heroic Idun
However, Finn Amund Norbye, Group CEO, of OSM Maritime, in a statement said that the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, “Heroic Idun” was ordered to load a cargo of oil in early August from the Akpo terminal in Nigeria.
While awaiting the clearance of papers, the Nigerian navy approached the vessel under cover of darkness. The captain of the ship believed it to be an attempted piracy attack. As such the vessel escaped into international waters.
At the request of the Nigerian navy, the vessel was interdicted by a navy vessel from “Equatorial Guinea” and at gunpoint escorted to Malabo where it is stuck since 13 August, allegedly for not displaying the Equatorial Guinean flag.
A fine was paid 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.
OSM as Ship Manager for the vessel has now been informed that a decision has been made by the authorities of Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria to move the vessel back to Nigeria for further investigations.
The seafarers are being treated like criminals, without any formal legal process. It is nothing short of a shocking maritime injustice.
“We must now see urgent action to resolve this situation. OSM together with the Ship Owner, Insurers, Legal advisors, Flag State, Embassies, ITF, and other industry players have been working to bring this to a conclusion,” Norbye said.
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