Switzerland has requested the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to order the release of a Swiss tanker; MT San Padre Pio and its crew detained in Nigeria since early 2018.
The Forward Operating Base of the Nigerian navy in Bonny, Rivers state, had arrested the ship on January 23, 2018.
The oil tanker, registered with canton Vaud shipping company ABC Maritime, and its crew members were detained for alleged diesel smuggling, and violation of Nigeria’s territorial waters.
The captain of the ship had denied the allegations, saying he had all papers covering him and the transactions.
Switzerland had made diplomatic efforts to secure the release of the ship but nothing fruitful came out of that.
The navy had handed over the vessel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) but the commission did not arraign those arrested in court because they had been in illegal naval custody without trial.
According to World Maritime News, the public hearing concerning the arrest and detention of the tanker San Padre Pio, its crew and cargo took place on June 21 and 22, 2019.
Back in January 2018, the Nigerian Navy intercepted and arrested the 7,600 dwt ship while it was engaged in ship-to-ship transfers of gasoil in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Nigeria.
The tanker, operated by Swiss ABC Maritime, was arrested due to “unauthorized entry into Nigerian waters and illegal fuel trading” although the ship’s captain claimed that San Padre Pio had permission to ship the fuel to this country. It was reportedly the tanker’s fifth visit to Nigeria.
The 2012-built ship was then ordered to proceed to Port Harcourt in Nigeria where it is still detained.
Switzerland began arbitral proceedings under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, submitting a request for the prescription of provisional measures. According to Switzerland, Nigeria “has breached its obligations owed to Switzerland in regard to its freedom of navigation and its right to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the San Padre Pio.”
In its request, Switzerland said that “Nigeria shall immediately take all measures necessary to ensure that the restrictions on the liberty, security and movement of the San Padre Pio, her crew and cargo are immediately lifted to allow them to leave Nigeria.”In particular, Nigeria has been asked to enable the San Padre Pio to be resupplied and crewed in order to be able to leave, with its cargo, the region and exercise the freedom of navigation.