Oil Theft: How Navy Escorted Rogue Vessel Back to Nigeria

Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja

As Nigeria battles oil theft, more facts have emerged on how the Nigerian Navy escorted a rogue oil vessel, MT HEROIC IDUN, back to Nigeria after it was handed over to the Nigerian authorities by the government of Equatorial Guinea.

It has also emerged that two other oil vessels, MT VIVIT ARABIA and MT TRINITY ARROW, recently attempted to load Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) at the Bonny Terminal without authorisation but were intercepted by the Nigerian Navy.

This is coming as 16 Indian sailors, who are part of a multinational crew of 26 sailors of the vessel, MT HEROIC IDUN, detained by Equatorial Guinea’s Navy for three months, have appealed to the Indian Government to help them return home.

The wives of the crew members have also raised the alarm over the perceived threat to the lives of the Indian crew members in a Save Our Soul (SOS) letter to the Indian Government.

But the Nigerian Navy said it was aware of “international media campaigns being planned and executed and sponsored by the vessel’s owners/agents, in a bid to muddy the waters and to make false claims of human rights violations against the Nigerian government.”

The Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), capable of carrying two million barrels of crude oil, has a length of 336 metres, a width of 60 metres, a draught of 11 metres and 299995 metric tonnes and IMO Number: 9858058. 

It was built in 2020 and is currently sailing under the flag of Marshall Islands and owned by Messrs Idun Maritime Limited, with Messrs Inchcape Shipping as its agent in Nigeria, and OSM Ship Management AS as the vessel manager.

Naval Spokesman, Commodore Kayode Ayo-Vaughan, said yesterday that two Nigerian Navy vessels had begun escorting the ship back to Nigeria.

Refinitiv, a vessel tracking outfit, on Friday, showed the ship’s destination as Bonny, Nigeria.

The Government of Equatorial Guinea had also authorised the handing over of the vessel to the Nigerian Navy.

The authorisation was confirmed by a November 6, 2022 tweet from the Vice President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodore Nguema Obiang.

“The handover was carried out in Equatorial Guinea on November 6, 2022. It is now expected that the vessel will return to Nigeria, for further investigations by the Nigerian Government,” he tweeted.

The Nigerian Navy had, in a fact sheet issued to the media, outlined potential charges to be preferred against owners of MT Heroic Idun and crew members.

They include: “Entering the restricted zone around an oil field without authorisation; Illegally attempting to load crude oil from Nigeria without appropriate documentation, which is tantamount to economic sabotage; falsely accusing a Nigerian Navy Ship of piracy on international maritime reporting platforms.

“It should be noted that she had communicated with the naval ship, and there was therefore no ambiguity about the identity of the NN Ship”. 

On the implications of the false piracy claim against Nigeria, the Navy said “this action of MT HEROIC IDUN is capable of denting the international image of Nigeria, and also making nonsense of the gains recorded by the country’s security agencies in the maritime sector. 

“It is on record that Nigeria has not recorded a pirate attack in her maritime environment over the last year (since 2021). Note that Nigeria was also struck off the list of piracy-prone countries by the International Maritime Bureau in March 2022.

“The false claim can equally impact negatively on insurance premium fees for vessels coming into the country. This would ultimately affect prices of goods imported into the country and by extension the lives of ordinary Nigerians”. 

The Navy said: “Everything necessary must therefore be done to successfully return MT HEROIC IDUN from Equatorial Guinea to Nigeria for the owners, Messrs Idun Maritime, to answer any charges brought against the vessel or otherwise clear her name. This would indeed send a strong message to any collaborators involved in crude oil theft in Nigeria, and the international community at large. 

“If the vessel is found innocent, it will be released. If it is found guilty of breaking the laws of Nigeria, the appropriate sanctions will be enforced, to send a strong message of deterrence. 

“It is important for the Nigerian Government to sustain its anti-crude oil theft efforts/operations for the prosperity of Nigeria as well as national security objectives,” the Navy explained. 

The Navy maintained that “it is thus necessary to resist any pressure from internal or international collaborators in the matters of crude oil theft or any matters allied. The government of the citizens of the sailors onboard the vessel – India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Poland – would do the same. 

“It is important to stress that Nigeria has followed due process in its handling of this entire incident, and will continue to abide by the principles of due process and fair and transparent investigations”.  

The Navy recalled that the vessel entered Nigerian waters, specifically the Akpo Oilfield, deep offshore Bonny, a joint venture operated by Total Energies EP, to load crude oil at about midnight on August 7, 2022. 

It said the vessel was duly accosted by a Nigerian Navy (NN) ship on patrol on August 8, 2022 (shortly after midnight) for not having due NNPC approval and naval clearance. 

“It must be pointed out that at the time it was accosted, it had not lifted any crude oil from the oilfield, and it also subsequently did not lift any Nigerian oil. It however stands accused of breaking the laws of Nigeria in other ways.

“The vessel, following its initial encounter with the Nigerian law enforcement, subsequently sailed out of Nigeria’s waters towards the Nigeria-Sao Tome & Principe Joint Development Zone and into the Equatorial Guinea EEZ, seeking to flee. (The Captain of MT HEROIC IDUN would later claim he was told by the ship’s agent not to obey any directive from the Nigerian authorities).

“The vessel thereafter raised a false international piracy alarm of being under attack by the NN ship. It is instructive to note that this is the same ship MT HEROIC IDUN had earlier had contact with and communicated with, which she later referred to as a pirate ship. 

“Nigerian authorities later made contact with the Equatorial Guinea Navy (EGN), and based on the exchange of information, the vessel was arrested by the Equatorial Guinea Navy on August 10, 2022”,  the Navy explained.

The Nigerian Navy further explained that “there was no need for the Nigerian Navy to pursue the fleeing ship, or forcefully attempt to arrest it, because there is a robust regional security architecture that could be depended on to ensure that the ship is held accountable. This is what was successfully done. Credit should go to the ‘Yaoundé Architecture’, as it is known, for enabling this seamless security cooperation. 

“Equatorial Guinea is a friendly neighbouring country, located like Nigeria in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). The country belongs to GoG Maritime Zone D along with Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe as well as Cameroon, while Nigeria belongs to Zone E along with Benin, Togo and Niger”, it said. 

“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. 

“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 said. 

Meanwhile, two other oil vessels, MT Vivit Arabia and MT Trinity Arrow recently attempted to load LNG without authorisation but were intercepted by the Nigerian Navy.

In a chat with THISDAY, Director of Information and Public Relations of the Nigerian Navy, Commodore Kayode Ayo-Vaughan, said the two vessels were intercepted while attempting to load crude without clearance.

The spokesman said MT Trinity Arrow, was apprehended on July 11, 2022, while MT Vivit Arabia was intercepted on July 12, 2022, at the Bonny Terminal.

“Two vessels mentioned by the CNS, MT Vivit Arabia attempted to load gas in Bonny without authorisation.

“Another vessel, MT Trinity Arrow attempted to load in Bonny but was intercepted. The tankers are not on the list of vessels to load gas. They were there without consent and authorisation,” he added.

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