The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in Kenya, Velupillai Kananathan has joined a consular visit to the vessel MT Heroic Idun along with the high commissioners and diplomats of India, Poland and the Philippines on 27 November 2022.
Following the visit, the high commissioner confirmed the detained Sri Lankan crew members are in excellent health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. The vessel’s crew consists of 08 Sri Lankan sailors, 16 from India, one from Poland and another from the Philippines.
It also mentioned that the Nigerian Navy is providing adequate security and all assistance on board, including food, medical and recreational facilities.
The vessel was detained by the Nigerian authorities for entering the Nigerian Maritime Environment in August 2022. The next hearing of the trial is scheduled on 11 January, 2023.
The ministry and the high commission will continue to monitor the situation, the statement read further.
The sailors were taken into custody in international waters in early August 2022 allegedly for not displaying the flag of Equatorial Guinea and have been in detention for more than 90 days ever since.
In a statement, the vessel’s managers OSM Maritime said the MT Heroic Idun was supposed to load an oil consignment from Akpo terminal in Nigeria in early August.
“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 and it was believed to be an attempted piracy attack. The vessel following Best Management Practice escaped from the area and out into international waters.”
A few days later, at the request of Nigerian navy, the vessel was interdicted in international waters by a naval vessel from Equatorial Guinea.
As per documents filed in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the Equatorial Guinea navy has followed a maritime code of conduct and detained the vessel on an alert sent by the Nigerian naval vessel.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Navy have said that it is conducting investigations into the alleged activities of the oil tanker MT Heroic Idun including oil theft.
OSM Maritime alleged that the sailors were escorted to Malabo – the capital of Equatorial Guinea – at gunpoint.
The vessel’s manager stated that a fine was paid at the end of September against a promise of release of the vessel and its crew. “However, both the ship and crew remain in captivity.”
The company was later informed of a decision made by the authorities of Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria to move the vessel back to Nigeria for further investigations.
Meanwhile, Capt Rajesh Trehan, a retired mariner and father-in-law of the ship’s master Capt Tanuj Mehta, told the BBC that everyone was under the impression that the crew and the ship would be released once the fine was paid to Equatorial Guinea on 28 September. “But suddenly Equatorial Guinea decided to accept Nigeria’s request.”
OSM Group CEO, Finn Amund Norbye alleged that the seafarers have been treated as criminals, without any formal charges or legal process for close to 03 months. It is nothing short of a shocking maritime injustice, he added.
The vessel’s crew members have recorded videos and made phone calls to their families and the authorities of their respective countries, seeking help to ensure their release.
A Nigerian court recently charged the 26 men with conspiracy to commit a maritime offence and attempting to illegally deal in crude oil as the authorities accused their supertanker of sailing in Nigerian waters without authority.