By Innocent Anaba
The crew of the crude oil carrier, MT Heroic Idun, has asked a Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, to stop the Federal Government from ‘illegally’ executing its ‘extraordinary rendition’ of the vessel from Equatorial Guinea to Nigeria.
The crew averred that there is no extradition treaty between Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, hence any alleged attempt to pressure the Central African country to remove them to Nigeria would be illegal and an infringement on their rights under Nigerian and international laws.
It described as false, the Nigerian Navy’s claim that MT Heroic Idun attempted to illegally load crude oil from Akpo Terminal in Nigeria, noting in particular, that the Navy admitted in a statement on August 19, 2022, that it found no crude oil on MT Heroic Idun.
They alleged further that the vessel and crew were unlawfully arrested by the Equatorial Guinea Navy under pressure from the Nigerian Navy.
MT Heroic Idun, with 26 persons onboard comprising 16 Indians, eight Sri Lankans, one Pole and one Filipino national, was arrested on August 22, 2022, by the Equatorial Guinea Navy shortly after the vessel left Nigerian waters.
Fearing their unlawful removal from Equatorial Guinea to Nigeria on the Nigerian Navy’s request, the 26 applicants and the vessel filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit at the court in suit FHC/ABJ/C8/2058/2022 through their counsel Babajide Koku SAN, praying the court to intervene.
Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Nigerian Navy are the respondents.
The applicants averred in an affidavit in support of the originating application, that on July 18, 2022, the Charterers of the vessel requested a Letter of Comfort from the owners for loading at Akpo Terminal in Nigeria (Terminal) with laycan (dates for loading) of August 17 and 18.
And On August 4, 2022, the Charterers/Sub-Charterers instructed the vessel to proceed to the Terminal and following that to Ceiba Marine Terminal to load a cargo of crude oil and then to Rotterdam in Holland to discharge the cargo, following which laycan was fixed or narrowed to August 8, 2022.
They averred that the sub-charterers BP likely failed to inform the Terminal of this change and/or to ensure that the correct paperwork was in place.
They stated that the vessel Master was concerned that if he arrived at the Akpo Terminal in Nigeria early that he would be in the country’s high-risk piracy zone, thus, he obtained permission to stay around 200 miles offshore waiting final confirmation of the load port laycan and that these instructions were confirmed on August 4.
The applicants averred that on August 8, following arrival, the Vessel was ordered by the Terminal to move outside of the 10nm Maritime Identification Zone of the Terminal because cargo nominations or naval clearances for the Vessel had yet to be provided.
They averred that about 9p.m., the Vessel was contacted by the Terminal security and was informed that there may be a Nigerian naval vessel approaching them.
They averred that when the Nigerian Navy told them to follow it to the Bonny fairway buoy for investigation, MT Heroic Idun declined because its Master feared that moving close to the Nigerian shore at night was too risky because of piracy concerns.
They averred that there was also confusion over the name of the Nigerian vessel which at that time was misspelt as “Agola” and could not be found on Google as a registered naval vessel and the agents were also contacted, and they too advised not to follow the orders of the vessel.
They added that the Navy vessel was requested to turn its AIS on but did not, this caused further concerns on board MT Heroic Idun and ashore and the master decided to move out of the area at full speed whilst the situation continued to be assessed.
The applicants noted that the Nigerian Navy subsequently issued a press release confirming that no oil was loaded and that the Vessel has been held ever since.
The claimants averred further that the interdiction by EG was unlawful and breached UNCLOS Articles 58, 87, 97 and 100 relating to innocent passage and the right to be on the high seas without interference.
“Further, it was carried out without any request being made to Flag which is a pre-requisite prior to an interdiction and boarding at sea although in this case, the navy was not able to get on board because of the weather.
“The Marshall Islands has instigated Arbitration proceedings under the judicial procedure set out in UNCLOS for damages and to ask for Provisional Measures namely the immediate release of the Vessel and crew. A Note Verbale is being served on the EG Embassy in Washington. This is an action by the Flag state and could lead to a judgment against EG for damages.”
The Nigerian Navy on August 19, 2022, debunked allegations that MT HEROIC IDUN, was loaded with three million barrels of stolen crude.
The Navy alleged that the vessel invaded the Akpo Oil Field without any form of authorisation or clearance, but fled without lifting any crude when it sensed the presence of a Navy vessel before it was apprehended at Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea.
Chief of Policy and Plans, Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Saidu Garba, said: “The brazen act of defiance to constituted authority by the Captain of the vessel necessitated the Nigerian Navy to invoke the collaboration of neighbouring Equatorial Guinea through the Yaoundé Architecture to arrest the vessel as we noticed that it stopped making way in the Equatoria Guinea waters.