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Swiss Tanker Released from Nigerian Detention After Nearly Four Years

tanker released after nearly four years of detention in Nigeria
San Padre Pio left Nigeria just shy of four years of detention (ABC Maritime photo)

Published Dec 30, 2021 7:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

A long-running dispute that had seen a Swiss product tanker detained in Nigeria finally came to a close in December, just shy of four years after the vessel was first detained. Swiss officials confirmed that just over two weeks ago the vessel left Nigerian-controlled territory informing the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg that the matter had been solved through diplomatic action.

The Swiss-flagged San Padre Pio, 7,600 dwt product tanker was operating in West Africa when the vessel was intercepted on January 23, 2018, and ordered by the Nigerians to sail to Port Harcourt, where it remained at anchor under detention. Nigeria accused the ship and its crew of violating territorial waters and conducting an illegal ship-to-ship transfer of gasoil.

Swiss shipping company ABC Maritime, which was the manager of the vessel, sought the release of the vessel and reports that it successfully defended the ship in the Nigerian High Court of Port Harcourt. The ship and its crew were found not guilty and acquitted of the charges. The acquitted crew were safely repatriated, but the vessel remained in Nigeria.

The Swiss authorities took the case to ITLOS seeking the release of the tanker. The international tribunal also found for the Swiss company and ordered the return of the vessel. 

“Following extensive diplomatic efforts by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research and the Federal Department of Finance, a memorandum of understanding providing for the vessel’s immediate release was signed on May 20, 2021,” said the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. “The agreement stipulated Nigeria's responsibility to release the San Padre Pio and for the companies involved in the vessel’s operations to take the necessary measures (such as various repairs) to allow it to actually depart.”

The departure finally took place on December 8, 2021, less than two months shy of four years since the vessel was detained. The vessel initially sailed to Togo, where she arrived on December 11, and she later moved to Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, where AIS data indicates she remains. 

Once the vessel was outside Nigeria's exclusive economic zone, Swiss authorities notified the tribunal that the pending legal proceeding pending could be discontinued. In accordance with the terms of the MoU, Switzerland, and Nigeria were able to resolve their dispute over the San Padre Pio. Nigeria also confirmed that it had no objection to the withdrawal of the case, and on December 29, the tribunal removed the case from its docket officially bringing the matter to a close.