A 9-month ordeal of 16 Indian Sailors previously detained in Equatorial Guinea and then in Nigeria ended after the Nigerian Navy decided to release their vessel on Sunday. The happy news was a relief to the families of the sailors that tried every possible way to secure their release.
The Norwegian vessel, MV Heroic Idun, is headed to Cape Town, South Africa, from where the men would fly home on June 7. The ship had 26 crew, including 16 Indians, while the remaining were from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Poland.
The ship was going to load crude oil from Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria when it was intercepted by a naval ship in international waters off Equatorial Guinea on August 12.
The authorities in Nigeria alleged that the crew members stole crude from their terminal. Misunderstanding and suspicion arose when a navy patrol vessel chased them, and the MV Heroic Idun mistook it for pirates and continued without stopping.
Heroic Idun went to Equatorial Guinea but was stopped there after receiving an alert from Nigeria. N November 2022. Guinea gave the ship and the sailors to Nigerian authorities, where the latter charged them with conspiracy, trying to flee from lawful interception and illegal export of crude oil.
On April 28, Nigeria’s federal court acquitted them of all charges; however, they could not be released due to delays in payment of the fine by the ship owner due to the ship’s unauthorised entry into Nigerian waters.
Per sources, this matter was settled outside court as the legal process could have taken years.
Sheethal Milton, wife of an Indian sailor onboard Heroic Idun, Milton D’Couth, recalled the nine months: “There was no regular communication. They were taken from one country to another. We would wake up every day expecting some positive news. Even though the court had acquitted them in April, anxiety about their release persisted.”
When the ship and its crew were handed to Nigeria, the ship was anchored off Bonny Port.
In the last six months, the crew lived under the strict vigilance of the Nigerian Navy. Their phones were confiscated and kept in the ship’s locked, guarded by naval personnel. Only once in 15 days could they make a 3-5 minute phone call to their families and were allowed to speak only in English so the authorities knew what they were talking about.
In Equatorial Guinea, the crew was shut in a small room and not given any proper meals or even enough water. Some became sick while being in detention for 3 weeks. Later they were held captive in the ship that anchored at Luba port, Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea.
The process was delayed as Nigeria’s opposition parties made it a huge issue, forcing their government to take custody of the ship and its crew while investigating the matter strictly and thoroughly.
Per sources, there was a plan to jail them, but during the investigation, it became evident that the sailors had all their documents and that the voyage was legal. The sailors also fully cooperated with the probe. Hence, they were permitted to live onboard their vessel. Also, they came to court regularly whenever the hearing was scheduled.
Trivikraman Nair, the father of another sailor, Vijith V Nair, said, “The anxiety over their release really shattered us. But, the Indian High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria, was helpful. The High Commissioner, G Balasubramanian, used to visit them on the ship and ensured all possible support for their release.”
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