QUICK UPDATE: Heroic Idun released in Nigeria, vessel and crew sailing to South Africa
We are delighted to report that the very large crude carrier (VLCC) Heroic Idun has finally been released from arrest in Nigeria on Sunday, May 28, and is now underway to Cape Town under its own power. The vessel’s tracking data shows an arrival date of June 6 in South Africa, where the 26 crewmembers will be flying home to their families at last. These seafarers have endured nine months of unlawful detention in first Equatorial Guinea and then Nigeria, after the Nigerian Navy made unfounded allegations that the vessel had falsely reported a piracy incident due to the failure of a navy patrol boat to switch on its AIS whilst attempting an interception at night.
Family members in India have confirmed to the local media that the crewmembers had their passports returned and that the vessel was cleared out of Nigeria on Sunday May. Sixteen of the crew are Indian, eight are Sri Lankan, and there is also one Filipino and one Polish citizen onboard.
It has taken a month since the crewmembers were acquitted of all charges against them for the Nigerian administration to release them and allow the vessel to leave the country. The owners of the tanker, Idun Maritime, a subsidiary of Norway’s Ray Car Carriers, pleaded guilty at the end of April to a single maritime offence, that of entering sovereign Nigerian waters unlawfully, and agreed to pay a fine of NGN5 million (around US$11,000).
No sooner was the plea bargain agreed than the Nigerians began to backpedal on the release of the crew, forcing the flag state of the ship, the Marshall Islands, to once again lodge a case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in the Netherlands. This threat of another legal defeat on top of the one inflicted by Switzerland, not known as a great maritime power, on Nigeria over the release of the tanker San Padre Pio in similar circumstances in a similar case in 2019 seemed to focus minds in Abuja. You can read the full claim by Switzerland here.
The next phase of the Heroic Idun resolution was an agreement that the owners must pay US$15 million to the federal government “as restitution to the country.” Yes, fifteen million US dollars, a sovereign shakedown more worthy of a Mafia protection racket than a serious country. Oh, and that was on top of US$2 million claimed by the government of Equatorial Guinea for the supposed crime of failing to fly the flag of Equatorial Guinea when the ship entered the nation’s waters. The fine was paid against a promise of release of the vessel and its crew by the local authorities, which was promptly reneged upon.
As we reported, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, said the payment to the Nigerian authorities this month was, “a resilient indication that the Nigerian Navy, as the nation’s maritime sentinel, will stop at nothing to ensure the domain is safer for sustainable development of the nation’s blue economy.”
The last hoop to jump through to release the seafarers was completed on May 12: a public apology in leading maritime publication Lloyds List, which you can read online here.
Now, sixteen days later, the vessel and her crew are finally free. This should never happen again, however. Nigeria cannot treat seafarers like human hostages to exact unreasonable fines from shipowners. Such morally and ethically repugnant behaviour seen in the cases of San Padre Pio and Heroic Idun damages Nigeria’s reputation and credibility.
Thanks to all the supporters of the crew through these dark times, to Gard as the vessel’s P&I Club, to Maria Dixon for her regular social media updates, to the All India Seafarers Union for their untiring aid and to Lloyds List and Tradewinds for keeping the case in the media spotlight, mostly outside their paywalls. When seafarers are held hostage by states, the maritime community needs to act with solidarity. Well done all.