Nigeria Releases Crew of VLCC Heroic Idun, Ending Nine-Month Ordeal
Nigeria has released the long-imprisoned crew of the VLCC Heroic Idun, who were accused of attempting to lift oil from an offshore platform and held without bail since last year.
Heroic Idun's ordeal began on August 8, when the tanker arrived as scheduled to take on a cargo from the CNOOC-operated Akpo offshore FPSO. As she waited, Heroic Idun was approached by the Nigerian Navy vessel Gongola. Fearing that the patrol boat was actually a pirate vessel, Heroic Idun fled into Equatorial Guinea's waters and reported an attempted act of piracy to the IMB's reporting center.
In response, Nigeria requested Equatorial Guinean authorities to hold the VLCC on charges of oil theft. Guinean authorities took possession of the ship and helds it until November, when they transferred it to the custody of the Nigerian Navy. Nigerian prosecutors charged members of the Heroic Idun's crew with conspiracy to commit a maritime offense; false pretense to be victims of a maritime offense; and "attempting to deal with crude oil within the Nigeria Exclusive Economic Zone without lawful authority."
On Friday, nearly nine months after the ordeal began, a court in Port Harcourt ordered that the tanker's crew must be released. The owner will have to pay a nominal official fine. The crew - including Sri Lankan, Indian, Pakistani and Polish nationals - will all be headed home to their respective countries soon.
The crew of the VLCC were the only individuals charged. Entities with decisionmaking authority for Heroic Idun's operations - the owner, shipmanager and charterer, all large and reputable Western companies - were not accused of any wrongdoing. The operators of the Akpo FPSO - without whom there could be no oil transfer, illegal or legal - were not charged with oil smuggling.
The Heroic Idun's detention coincided with the onset of the Nigerian presidential election cycle. The rampant oil theft found in the Niger Delta littorals was among the top issues of the election, and the seizure of a Norwegian-operated, British-chartered VLCC at a terminal 75 nm offshore was portrayed as a major success during the campaign. The nation's inland oil theft problem is decades old and has proven exceptionally resistant to suppression, due in part to the involvement of political and military elites.