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Equatorial Guinea to send arrested VLCC and its crew back to Nigeria: One Pinoy seaman included

Equatorial Guinea to send arrested VLCC and its crew back to Nigeria
Adis Ajdin November 7, 2022

The Marshall Islands-flagged very large crude carrier and its crew, arrested earlier this year by Equatorial Guinea forces over alleged crude oil theft, will be returned to Nigeria for further investigations.

The 2020-built 300,000 dwt vessel was supposed to load a cargo of crude oil in Nigeria’s Akpo terminal on August 8 but was delayed, and later that day approached by a ship that did not have its automatic identification systems (AIS) switched on, claiming to be Nigerian Navy.

After several attempts to identify the vessel failed, the VLCC escaped from the area and out into international waters under suspicion of an attempted piracy attack. A few days later, at the request of the Nigerian navy, the vessel was interdicted by a navy vessel from Equatorial Guinea and escorted to Malabo, where it has been held back since August 13, allegedly for not displaying the Equatorial Guinean flag.

The vessel has a total crew of 26 persons, of whom 16 are Indian, eight Sri Lankans, one Polish and one Filipino national onboard. 15 crew members were taken ashore and have ever since been held in detention at Malabo while the remaining crewmembers were left on the ship.

“The seafarers have been treated as criminals without any formal charges or legal process for close to 3 months, it is nothing short of a shocking maritime injustice,” said Finn Amund Norbye, CEO of vessel’s shipmanager OSM Group.

A fine was paid at the end of September in exchange for the release of the vessel and its crew. However, both the ship and crew remained in captivity, OSM said in a statement. The crew added in a joint statement that it had not been mistreated or harassed in any way by the Equatorial Guinea authorities but stressed that those held onboard and ashore “are in an extremely critical mental condition and their physical health is also deteriorating rapidly.”

OSM has worked together with the shipowner, insurers, legal advisors and other industry players to bring the case to a conclusion. However, Norbye warned that with the latest development to move the vessel under neighboring state jurisdiction, “the chance of any swift resolution is further diminished.” Norway’s Hunter Group sold the ship to Ray Car Carriers in June for around $95m.

The Nigerian Navy has not made secret their desire to have the vessel and crew transferred to Nigeria, where, according to Stephen Askins, partner at UK shipping law firm Tatham & Co, past records have shown that the crew would be exposed to being held in inhumane conditions pending further investigation or bail.

“In the absence of any extradition treaty, this amounts to unlawful rendition described recently in the Court of Appeal in London as one of the gravest breaches of human rights that there can be,” said Askins via LinkedIn, adding that the charges faced by the crew for attempted theft of oil carry life sentences.

He pointed out that the latest move will cause “serious consternation in the tanker community” and after other high-profile cases like the San Padre Rio serious questions would be asked about the Nigerian navy’s repeated disregard for international law.