Kochi: The crew of the Norwegian vessel MT Heroic Idun, which was detained by the Nigerian authorities late last year on suspicion of crude oil piracy, has been released after a court dropped charges against them. Sixteen of the 26 crew members of the vessel were Indians and three among them, Malayalis. Others were from Poland, Philippines and Sri Lanka.
The Nigerian authorities have returned the passports of the crew members, as per sources. It is not clear as to when they would reach home.
Release after months
The release comes after the months-long trials in a Nigerian court. There was pressure on Nigeria at an international level, pointing out that the ship and the crew have been framed and detained.
Kochi natives Chief Officer Captain Sanu Jose, Milton De Coth, and Kollam native V Vijith are the Keralites among the crew. The latter is the brother of Vismaya who died by suicide following a dowry harassment case that had hit the headlines in Kerala in mid-2021.
What had happened in the seas?
The tanker that was detained in the seas of West African country Equatorial Guinea last August was handed over to the Nigerian authorities only last November.
The Equatorial Guinea Navy had initially detained ‘Heroic Idun’, and the 26 crew members on board alleging crude oil theft. The detention was at the behest of Nigeria, a major oil producer.
The ship had reached Nigeria's APCO Offshore 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 personnel of the Guinean Navy.
Earlier, 'Heroic Idun' was directed to exit the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone as the crew did not possess a technical permit from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Navy to fill crude oil.
The crew moved 'Heroic Idun' to international waters fearing that the unidentified ship that had approached her had pirates. A few men on board the latter vessel claimed to be naval officers and demanded to inspect the ship. The latter had reached without operating the automatic identification system, the 'Heroic Idun' also raised a danger alarm. Meanwhile, a Nigerian ship which had followed them for a while, later withdrew.
However, on August 14, Guinea Navy stopped 'Heroic Idun' and detained the ship and its crew. The passports and the mobile phones of the crew were also confiscated.
In September, a huge amount was given as a fine by the shipping company to Guinea to release the crew. But, the Guinean authorities, instead of releasing the crew, handed over the ship and its crew to the Nigerian authorities.