The ongoing reinvigorated battle against oil theft by the Federal government and the Nigerian Navy , appears to have yielded great deterrents to unrepentant economic saboteurs, this is so , especially with the commencement of prosecution of suspected criminal vessel, MT Heroic Idun and crew which were recently handed over to the Nigerian authorities by the government of Equatorial Guinea.
This development was made public to newsmen by the Chief of Policy and Plans, Navy Headquarters, Rear Admiral Seidu Garba .
In his address, the Naval Chief noted that ” this ‘mischievous’ act by MT HEROIC IDUN was aimed at tarnishing the good image of the maritime domain of Nigeria, which the Nigerian Navy have worked very hard to achieve and sustain” .
The conference was jointly addressed by the Navy, representatives of Ministry of Defence (MOD), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice.
Speaking, Rear Admiral Garba said, “You may recall that on Friday, August 19, 2022, the Naval Headquarters briefed the Press on the arrest of Motor Tanker HEROIC IDUN by the Equatorial Guinean Navy. It was mentioned that the Very Large Crude oil Carrier (VLCC) had entered the Nigerian Maritime Environment (NME) on August 7, 2022 and headed for Akpo Field without any form of authorisation or clearance.
Illustrating his facts, he Said; “For the avoidance of doubt, MT HEROIC IDUN (IMO: 9858058) is registered in Marshall Island with an overall length of 336-metres, 60 metres breadth and capacity of 3 million barrels. The vessel was spotted by the Nigerian Navy Maritime Domain Awareness facility and a Nigerian Navy (NN) Inshore Patrol Craft, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) GONGOLA probed the legitimacy of her presence in the Total Safe Anchorage operated Akpo Field.
He revealed that it was ” Following the interrogation, that the Captain of MT HEROIC IDUN duly responded to NNS GONGOLA and further affirmed that his vessel was without relevant clearance to operate in the Field.
According to him while the vessel was ordered to turn around and follow NNS GONGOLA to Bonny anchorage pending when she will be cleared for loading by NNPC Ltd, she bluntly declined on the claims that she had been told by her agent not to take directives from the Nigerian Navy Ship. Thereafter, she engaged full speed southwards towards the Sao Tome and Principe maritime area in a bid to evade arrest.
Regrettably, “Apart from refusing lawful arrest, the Captain of the vessel made a broadcast of false piracy attack call to International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre to mislead mariners that NNS GONGOLA was a pirate vessel and possibly concoct an alibi for her desperate action. On the piracy alert, the Nigerian Navy also through international collaboration alerted relevant piracy reporting centres through CRESMAO and ECOWAS ZONE F Cotonou headed by Nigerian Navy officers for the alert to be cancelled immediately which was done by IMB.
Denying such recent pirate attacks, he said, ” Suffice to state that Nigeria has not recorded any piracy attack in its waters in over one year. Hence, this mischievous act by MT HEROIC IDUN was clearly aimed at tarnishing the good image of the maritime domain of Nigeria, which we have worked very hard to achieve and sustain.
Continued He : “The Nigerian Navy therefore invoked the collaboration of neighbouring Equatorial Guinea through the Yaoundé Architecture to arrest the vessel. With the aid of the Nigerian Navy surveillance facility, MT HEROIC IDUN was tracked and the Equatorial Guinea Amphibious Ship, CAPTAIN DAVID was therefore vectored to intercept and arrest the fleeing ship on 12 Aug 22.
Following the arrest, MT HEROIC IDUN was held at the Luba Anchorage in Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea while the country conducted her own investigations owing to some infractions the vessel had also committed in the country’s waters.
Whilst these were ongoing, Nigerian Navy was said to have made a formal request for the transfer of the vessel to Nigeria as earlier Stated by the Naval Authority during an earlier Press Briefing on August 19, 2022.
Having made a formal request, the authority Stated that it followed up the process with diplomatic overtures and negotiations towards achieving the transfer of HEROIC IDUN to Nigeria.
“Suffice to add that both Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea are signatories to the Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery against Ships and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa of 2013 commonly referred to as the ‘Yaounde Code of Conduct’”, he noted.
“The Code is backed by appropriate UN Security Council Resolutions and provides the platform for information sharing as well as coordination amongst signatories. This includes handover of vessels or persons suspected to have committed offences in each other’s States. It was based on this therefore that MT HEROIC IDUN was brought back to Nigeria from Equatorial Guinea on 12 November 2022.
Condemning the smear campaign put up by the ship in the Media space in a fierce attempt to rubbish the transfer process by falsely gaining international support/sympathy, he affirmed that such ” was thus bound to fail and perhaps an indication that the vessel has a case to answer. ”
Accordingly, on November, 6 2022, the vessel was said to have been handed over to Nigeria by Equatorial Guinea. Subsequently, she cast off Equatorial Guinea waters under Nigerian Navy escort on 11 November and arrived off Bonny Offshore Terminal II on 12 November 2022.
Listing some likely offences committed by the vessel, Rear Admiral Garba stated that “MT HEROIC IDUN is presently in the custody of the Nigerian Navy and based on legal opinion and analysis, the super-tanker could be said to have committed the following offences against the Nigerian State: Attempt to deal in export crude oil without license or authorization, Entering the Restricted Zone around an Oilfield without authorization and thus violating Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone regulations, Falsely accusing a Nigerian Navy Ship of piracy on International Maritime Reporting Platforms after having communicated with the Nigerian Navy Ship without ambiguity about her identity therefore violating sections of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO)Act 2019, Violation of all lawful instructions at sea from Maritime Law Authorities as well as Nigeria’s Miscellaneous Act and other associated national and international laws ascribed to by Nigeria, Violation of Custom and Immigration Laws as acceded by Nigeria regarding the operations of Akpo Oil Terminal being an Oil installation in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone.”
Alerting the public, he said: “At this juncture, the navy wishes to enjoin the media, well-meaning Nigerians and well-wishers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to note the actual occurrence regarding MT HEROIC IDUN for which she is now under the custody of the Navy for prosecution.
Dismissing on going rumours, he said thus;”Please disregard rumours, mischievous and fictitious articles being circulated by enemies of the State, in a bid to cause chaos and discredit efforts of the Nigerian Navy and indeed Nigeria. The Navy also acknowledges with immense gratitude the role played by the Government of Equatorial Guinea in the arrest and transfer of MV HEROIC IDUN to Nigeria.
The Naval Officer applauded the part played by other Agencies such as the Federal ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Justice in the actualization of the transfer of this Vessel of Interest.
Nigerian Navy Further assured Nigerians that in accordance with its statutory responsibilities and drawing strength from the strategic directives of the CNS, Vice Admiral Auwal Zubairu Gambo , the Service will maintain a posture of zero tolerance to crude oil theft and other criminal activities in our maritime domain. “The Navy shall continue to work in synergy with other maritime stakeholders, Gulf of Guinea states’ navies, and strategic partners to ensure that Nigeria derives maximum benefit from its natural maritime endowments.”