Kochi: The detention of over two dozen Indian sailors in Nigeria on charges of crude oil theft in the sea has become a subject for campaign in the upcoming elections scheduled in February and March in the West African country.
Sources in India's External Affairs Ministry say the release of the sailors will be delayed due to the elections.
The All-Progressives Congress (APC), the party of the incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari, is trumpeting the arrest as an achievement. Crude oil theft is one of the major topics of contention in the poll campaign.
The ruling party expects the sailors' arrest would give it the upper hand in the election and also help it save face over the allegation that the lack of resolute action by the authorities so far enabled such thefts.
Nigeria is a major oil producer and a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). For years, the Opposition parties of Nigeria have been alleging that the recurring thefts of crude oil have been causing huge losses to the country.
Reports say about 6,00,000 barrels of crude oil go missing every day in the country. Maritime trade is a key source of income for the coastal countries of West Africa and oil accounts for a lion's share of Nigeria's income. Oil piracy is rampant in the Gulf of Guinea.
The elections to the posts of President and Vice President are scheduled for February 25 in Nigeria. In addition, elections to the House of Representatives and Senate will take place on the same day. On March 11, polls in the 36 States of the country and election of 28 State Governors will also be conducted.
What had happened
As reported earlier 26 sailors, including three Keralites, were first detained by the navy personnel of West African nation of Guinea, suspecting their involvement in crude oil piracy. The sailors were in the Norway vessel 'Heroic Idun', when they were detained by the Guinean Navy, reportedly at the behest of Nigeria. The ship reached Nigeria's AKPO Terminal on August 8 to fill crude oil. While the crew was awaiting their turn, another ship was spotted heading towards 'Heroic Idun'. Though the sailors tried to steer away from the spot, assuming the approaching vessel to be of pirates, the vessel was seized by the Guinean Navy personnel. The sailors were taken into custody and interrogated and later shifted to Nigeria.