The Nigerian Navy on Sunday returned a Norwegian-registered vessel, MT Heroic Idun, caught attempting to steal Nigeria’s crude oil in August 2022.
The navy arrested the oil tanker and its 26 Indian, Pilipino, Sri Lankan and Polish nationals in August 2022, and later convicted them in court and fined $15 million.
Capt. Mohammed Adamu, Commanding Officer, Forward Operating Base, Bonny, handed over MT Heroic Idun to its owner, Idun Maritime Limited at Bonny, Rivers, after it met with the plea bargain conditions.
He said after the seizure of the merchant ship, its crew members were charged to the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt for trial in January.
“The Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), MT Heroic Idun and its 26 foreign crew were arrested after entering Nigeria’s waters unauthorized with intent to lift crude oil.
“Subsequently, they were charged to court and later pleaded guilty as well as elected voluntarily to enter into a plea bargain agreement with Nigeria.
“The vessel and its crew also agreed to make restitution to the Federal Government.
“The plea bargain was in the interest of justice, public and for public policy interest in line with Section 270 (5) (a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015,” he said.
Adamu said after the conviction and sentencing by the court that MT Heroic Idun and its owners were mandated to pay conviction fines and restitution.
“The owners also agreed to make an apology to the Federal Republic of Nigeria both in print and electronic media as well as Lloyd’s List.
“On its part, the Federal Government agreed not to further criminally prosecute and/or investigate the vessel, her owners, charterers or her crew in the matter of her crime against the state.
“The owners of the vessel later apologized to the Federal Government on the Lloyd’s List on May 12 while the same apology was published in the Punch Newspaper of May 18.
“Subsequently, MT Heroic Idun, having fulfilled all the aforementioned conditions of the plea bargain to the satisfaction of the court, has been released to its owners, Idun Maritime Limited,” he added.
The navy officer said the vessel’s release had the consent of the Federal High Court as well as approval of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
He said the prosecution of the seafarers demonstrated the navy’s commitment to ensure that only valid and authorized vessels were allowed into the country.
According to him, the navy will continue to ensure that only vessels that obtain permits and have security clearance are allowed to lift crude oil or gas from the country.
“Consequently, all maritime stakeholders, key players and seafarers operating within the Nigeria waters are to carefully conduct their maritime operations within the extant regulations and observance of the law.
“We will bring to book those whose operation infringe on the provisions of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act, 2019 and all maritime laws and conventions acceded to Nigeria,” he warned.