Nigerian Navy Takes Control of Seized VLCC Heroic Idun
The crew, owners and insurers of the VLCC Heroic Idun have lost their bid to keep the tanker out of the hands of the Nigerian military, which claims that the vessel unlawfully called at an offshore facility in the nation's EEZ. Under "armed duress," on Friday the crew moved the tanker from Bioko, Equatorial Guinea - where it was under arrest - back to Nigerian waters, where it has moored at the Bonny Offshore Terminal. The All India Seafarers' Union reports that seven Nigerian armed guards are stationed aboard the vessel and that the crew are being questioned.
The Heroic Idun's multinational crew have had a difficult ordeal since they fled a suspected pirate vessel at the Akpo offshore terminal. On August 8, the tanker arrived to take on a cargo from the terminal's loading buoy, but they were approached and pursued by the Nigerian Navy vessel Gongola. The Heroic Idun departed the scene and reported an attempted act of piracy to the IMB ICC Piracy Reporting Centre. (Nigeria's navy contends that Heroic Idun's crew communicated with the Gongola and must have known that the warship was not that kind of pirate vessel.)
“Whilst waiting for the necessary clearance papers after having tendered notice of readiness in line with voyage orders received from charterers, the Nigerian Navy approached the vessel under cover of darkness in a way that caused serious concerns,” ship manager OSM reported.
Invoking the Yaounde Architecture for counterpiracy cooperation, Nigeria asked Equatorial Guinea to intercept the Heroic Idun and order the tanker to an anchorage. The VLCC was captured by Guinean forces on August 12 and held through November 10, with the crew reportedly enduring cramped conditions in detention on shore.
“The seafarers have been treated as criminals, without any formal charges or legal process for close to three months, it is nothing short of a shocking maritime injustice," commented OSM Group CEO Finn Amund Norbye last week.
The Heroic Idun crew have been detained in Equatorial Guinea for almost 3 months without formal charges/legal process. We urge the Nigerian authorities, the flag state, @IMOHQ and others to continue working tirelessly to get a swift resolution so the crew can return home. pic.twitter.com/lnrM9APhDT— Stella Maris (@StellaMarisOrg) November 8, 2022
This video from the master of the vessel Heroic Idun. The captive crew is losing hope.pic.twitter.com/l4vxJtQk3U— Piyush Rai (@Benarasiyaa) November 9, 2022
Despite paying a substantial "fine" to the government of Equatorial Guinea, the owners were not able to get the Heroic Idun or her crew released. Ultimately, Guinean security chief Teddy Nguema announced that he had "authorized the delivery" of the tanker to the Nigerian government.
In a last-ditch attempt to prevent the tanker's extradition, the shipowner asked the engine OEM to remotely disable the main engine. However, upon realizing that the vessel's captors might attempt a risky tow, the owners relented and allowed the vessel to proceed under her own power.
In India, rallies and vigils have been held for the tanker's crewmembers, reflecting a broad sense that their detention is unjust.
A Peaceful Protest Was Carried out at #Dehradun today for Bringing our Brothers on #heroicidun #saveoursailors#heroiciduncrew#saveourindianseafarers#wearehumanstoo— Aman Pratap Singh Negi (@navigatoramaneg) November 12, 2022
Please Help @narendramodi @DrSJaishankar @dgship_goi @shipmin_india pic.twitter.com/kCXEGUhqEE
The Nigerian Navy has dismissed the crew's humanitarian appeal as an example of “international media campaigns being planned and executed and sponsored by the vessel’s owners/agents, in a bid to muddy the waters and to make false claims of human rights violations against the Nigerian government.”
The navy - which has its own history of unauthorized oil export - has released a list of potential charges against the crew. These include "entering the restricted zone around an oil field without authorization; illegally attempting to load crude oil from Nigeria without appropriate documentation, which is tantamount to economic sabotage; [and] falsely accusing a Nigerian Navy ship of piracy on international maritime reporting platforms."