By DAPO OLAWUNI
There are indications that the Nigerian Navy may have deployed the newly enacted Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act 2019 (SPOMO) Act in prosecuting the 27 Crew Onboard the rogue vessel; MT Heroic Idun which sneaked into Nigeria to load petroleum product without authorisation.
However, the Navy has allegedly left out other Nigerian collaborators who participated in loading the tanker at the Akpo Oil terminal.
The 27 crew members of MT Heroic Idun, were arraigned at the Federal High Court Five, Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.
According to The Maritime Executive, the Navy has charged everyone aboard the tanker with the crime of “false pretense to be victims of a maritime offense,” among other charges under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act 2019 (SPOMO).
“The workers aboard the Nigerian-owned Akpo platform – without whom there could be no oil transfer to the tanker, legal or otherwise – face no accusations from the Nigerian Navy. Likewise, the oilfield’s operating owner, Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC, has not been accused of any wrongdoing”
The crew of the Heroic Idun have been held in limbo for three months, and with the new charges, it looks like their ordeal is far from over.
On August 8, the tanker had arrived to take on a cargo from the Akpo offshore terminal loading buoy when it was approached by the Nigerian Navy vessel Gongola. Fearing a pirate attack, Heroic Idun departed Nigerian waters and reported an attempted act of piracy to the IMB’s reporting center.
However, the Idun had not escaped. Alleging that the tanker was attempting to engage in oil theft, Nigeria asked Equatorial Guinea to intercept the Idun and detain it at an anchorage. Guinean authorities held the Idun and her crew until November 11, when the Nigerian Navy took custody of the vessel and ordered the crew to transit to the Bonny terminal in Nigerian waters.
In an arraignment Monday at Port Harcourt, Nigeria, prosecutors charged 16 members of the Heroic Idun’s crew with conspiracy to commit a maritime offense; false pretense to be victims of a maritime offense; and “attempting to deal with crude oil within the Nigeria Exclusive Economic Zone without lawful authority.” The last charge carries a sentence of life in prison, plus forfeiture of the vessel involved.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Naval Staff who was represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans, Rear Adm. Saidu Garba, listed the offences committed by the vessel to include attempt to deal in export crude oil without license or authorisation; entering a restricted zone around an oilfield without authorisation and thus violating Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone regulations.
Others included 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.
The vessel also violated 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 and 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.