The Navy moved the tanker from Bioko in Equatorial Guinea, where it was under arrest and returned to Nigerian waters, where it was moored at the Bonny Offshore Terminal.
The crew, owners and insurers of the large crude carrier lost their bid to keep the tanker out of the control of the Nigerian Navy that secured the return of the ship to Nigeria for prosecution.
This was after the Navy provided evidence that the carrier unlawfully called at an offshore facility in the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Information gathered from the Navy on the update of the situation revealed that there has been a push for an out-of-court settlement by the Ambassadors of the various countries of the detained crewmembers of the ship.
Recall that the court had in November 2022, ordered that all the 26 crew members of the vessel be remanded inside the ship until the commencement of their trial.
The 16 foreign crewmembers, who are citizens of Poland, India, Sri-Lanka and Pakistan as well as 10 others were charged to court by the federal government on three counts charge.
The charges border on unlawful entrance into Akpo oil field in Nigeria, raising false piracy alarm to avoid arrest and an attempt to lift crude oil without clearance, thereby violating sections of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act 2019.
The Naval spokesperson, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, in a chat with journalists, confirmed that there has been a push for plea bargaining, but said the process has not yet been firmed-up.
This is even as he disclosed that the last hearing was held on April 11, while the next court hearing has been fixed for April 28, 2023.
Ayo-Vaughan noted that there is also a plea bargaining an out-of-court settlement, adding that a lot of Ambassadors have tried to make a case for the crew.
“The charges brought against them border on unlawful entrance into Akpo oil field, raising false piracy alarm to avoid arrest and an attempt to lift crude oil without clearance.
“Recall that the crew is majorly Indian and all of them are facing the charges, so that’s the position as per the update on Heroic Idun” he confirmed.
The Director General Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, also confirmed that there has been a push for an out-of-court settlement and that the process is yet to be concluded.
“We are in court and the owners came and said they want out-of-court settlement, but the process is yet to be firmed up. The court was adjourned on April 28. We will come out with a harmonised position to settle the matter,” he said.
Reacting to the planned out-of-court settlement of the crew members, a member of the Nigerian Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shola Olatunji, who did not object to their release, said government could engage in an out-of-court settlement if the crew is found not culpable of the offences
“There is no way we can go against their release because the government would have conducted their investigations and found out that there are no infractions in what they did before they can be released, if they are culpable, of course, the government cannot release them, so ship owners are not against their release”, he said.
Also speaking, the President of the National Association of Masters Mariners (NAMM), Capt. Tajudeen Alao, agreed that the crew members should be released on plea bargaining.
He argued that seafarers should not be punished for a crime they are not guilty of.
Alao said the Nigerian Navy should rather go after the vessel owners and stop the criminalisation of the seafarers.
According to him, seafarers are players in the international market, adding that there is a general agreement between the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) that seafarers should not be punished for such crimes.
“They should track the cargo instead of punishing seafarers, treating them like criminals and discouraging them from going to the sea, which is not good. By now, Nigeria should have put up a standard procedure to handle this kind of matter,” he said.