The Federal Government has released and handed over a large crude carrier, MT Heroic Idun, to the owners, Idun Maritime Limited, after fulfilling the conditions of the plea bargain entered between them and the Nigerian government.
It would be recalled that the tanker with 26 foreign crew on board resisted arrests by the Nigerian Navy Ship Gongola, near the Apu oilfield offshore Nigeria and eventually arrested in Equatorial Guinea in August 2022.
The crude carrier and the foreigners were then brought back to Nigeria for prosecution in November 2022 on three count charges.
The convicted vessel, MT HEROIC IDUN and its owners were to pay conviction fines and restitution to the federal government and make an apology to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in print and electronic media as well as Llyod’s List, while the government agreed not to further criminally prosecute and/or investigate the vessel, her owners, charterers or her crew in the matter of her crime against the State.
All these being the conditions of the plea bargain without which the vessel and its crew would not be released.
The convicted vessel, having satisfied the conditions of the plea bargain was handed over officially to the owners, Idun Maritime Limited offshore the Atlantic coast of Rivers State.
Speaking at the handing over, the Commanding Officer, Forward Operating Base, Bonny, Navy Captain Mohammed Adamu, said prosecuting the vessel under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act, 2019 further demonstrates the Nigerian Navy’s practical commitment to end oil theft in the country.
Adamu said the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, will continue to work in synergy with other Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies, natives of the Gulf of Guinea states and strategic partners of Nigeria to ensure that she derives the maximum benefit from its natural resources in her vast maritime area.
He stated, “Accordingly, the owners of the vessel apologized to the FGN on the LLOYDS List on 12 May 2023 and same apology was published in The PUNCH Newspaper (Page 22) on 18 May 2023.
“The vessel regretted the false pirate attack alarm she raised on 7 August 2023 which was in clear defiance of the State being that she disobeyed the orders of Nigerian Navy Ship GONGOLA after an attempt to load crude oil without appropriate approvals from NNPCL and the necessary security clearance.
“The subsequent transfer of the ship from Equatorial Guinea after she had escaped Nigerian waters and her prosecution under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act, 2019 further demonstrates the Nigerian Navy’s practical commitment to ensure that only valid and authorized vessels are allowed to carry out export of crude oil or gas at the various oil terminals and this is with a view to enhancing energy security governance in the country for improved national prosperity as directed by the FGN.
“Pertinently, MT HEROIC IDUN having fulfilled all the aforementioned conditions of the plea bargain to the satisfaction of the Federal High Court has been released today Saturday 27 May 2023 to its owners, Idun Maritime Limited with the consent of the court and approval of the FGN.”
Continuing, Navy Captain Adamu said, “Consequent upon this development, maritime stakeholders, key players and seafarers operating within Nigerian waters are enjoined and warned to carefully conduct their operations and maritime-related activities within extant regulations and with due observance of the law.”
“The Nigerian Navy will not fail to bring to book those whose operation infringes on the provisions of the SPOMO Act and all maritime laws and conventions acceded to by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Answering questions from newsmen, the Captain of the convicted vessel, Mr Tanuj Mehta stated that they were professionally treated by the Nigerian Navy, saying as a crew they were happy to return to their country.
Mehta said, “We were treated professionally by the Nigerian Navy and we are thankful to the Nigerian Navy and to the people of Nigeria for treating us well and extremely professionally.
“And yes, we are aware of the arrangement between the Navy and the vessel owners as well as the plea bargain agreement. And we are very happy and relieved to go back to our country.