An Indian crew members of an oil supertanker accused by Nigerian authorities of attempting to illegally load crude have been arrested.
Nigerian authorities said the oil supertanker had attempted to load illegal crude before leaving its territorial waters for Equitorial Guinea.
The Navy told Reuters that the ship was on its way back to the country on Friday after it was trailed to Equitorial Guinea.
At the request of Nigerian authorities, Equatorial Guinea detained the Heroic Idun, a vessel capable of carrying 2 million barrels of oil, on Aug. 17 for sailing without an identifying flag, fleeing from the Nigerian navy and sailing in Equatorial Guinean waters without prior authorization.
Nigerian officials said Messrs. Idun Maritime Ltd, a Marshall Islands-based company, owned the vessel. Reuters was unable to reach Idun Martime.
Nigerian Navy spokesman Commodore Kayode Ayo-Vaughan told Reuters that two Nigerian naval vessels had begun escorting the ship back to Nigeria on Friday afternoon.
Refinitiv vessel tracking on Friday showed the ship’s destination as Bonny, Nigeria.
A spokesperson for the Equatorial Guinean government did not immediately reply to request comment. On Nov. 7, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, Equatorial Guinea’s vice president and head of defense and security, said on Twitter that he had authorized the vessel to return to Nigeria.
Oil theft has taken more than 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Nigeria’s oil output, crippled state finances and knocked it from Africa’s top exporter to number two, according to Nigeria’s state oil company.
Nigeria said the vessel had not loaded any oil before the Navy approached it, but said the ship made a false claim of a piracy attack, entered a restricted area without authorization and attempted to load crude oil illegally.
Vessel manager OSM Maritime said in a statement that when the navy approached it, it had been awaiting clearance papers, that the crew genuinely believed they were facing a piracy attack and that leaving the area for international waters was following best management practice.
It said they had paid a fine to Equatorial Guinea in September, on the promise that they would release the ship and its crew, and called its continued detention “shocking maritime injustice.”
In a fact sheet shared with Reuters, the Nigerian government said the vessel must return to answer charges or otherwise clear its name.
“This would indeed send a strong message to any collaborators involved in crude oil theft in Nigeria, and the international community at large,” the fact sheet said.
The vessel’s 26-man crew on Nov. 8 filed a petition with a federal high court in Abuja asking it to block efforts to “unlawfully rendition” them back to Nigeria, arguing that Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea had no extradition treaty and no mutual legal assistance agreement. The date for ruling is yet to be fixed for the case.