Sixteen sailors from India, who are part of the 26 crew members of a vessel detained in Equatorial Guinea on the western coast of central Africa, have appealed for assistance to be released from “unlawful” detention.
Per a statement that the sailors published, the Norwegian-flagged vessel dubbed the MT Heroic Idun was reportedly arrested by the Equatorial Guinea naval vessel in international waters on 12 August 2022.
The statement mentioned that the vessel was brought to Luba port, based in Equatorial Guinea, under the supervision of naval escort and threats of destructive actions against the ship and crew members if orders were not complied with on 14 August 2022.
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The MT Heroic Idun crew members would request assistance to expedite the release so that the sailors can be brought back to India, where seamen have been held unlawfully since 14 August this year. The vessel has a crew of 26 individuals. Of that, we have 16 people from India, eight from Sri Lanka, one from Poland, and one Filipino national on the vessel, the statement mentioned.
V Muraleedharan, the minister of state for external affairs, mentioned that he was aware of the matter and that the ministry is extending all kinds of efforts to bring back the Indian nationals to their home.
Fifteen crew members, including nine from India, were reportedly taken ashore on 14 August and detained at Malabo.
The 11 crew members, who were remaining, including six Indians, were left on the vessel.
The statement mentioned that the managers, owners, and crew members of the vessel have cooperated with the inspections conducted by the relevant Equatorial Guinea authorities.
It added that the crew members held on the shore were interrogated by the Nigerian officials thrice during the stay.
The crew members mentioned that the Navy of Equatorial Guinea detained them based on a request by Nigeria.
The vessel was supposed to load a crude oil cargo at Nigeria’s AKPO terminal on 8 August. However, the loading operation was delayed, and the ship never had operations in Nigeria.
On 8 August (around the evening), the vessel was approached by an unidentified craft claiming to be Nigeria’s Navy and instructed to proceed with them and follow all instructions.
We couldn’t recognize the craft as it was dark at night. There was no moonlight, and the ship did not have its Automatic Identification System on.
Efforts were made to validate the identity of the craft via the vessel agents based in Nigeria, Inchcape Shipping Services, and via OSM Ship Management AS Norway, which also tried confirming the presence of a naval vessel in the vicinity of the ship via multiple sources like DNK war-risk insurance, a local agent named Inchcape Shipping Services Nigeria, and ARC Security — the sailors mentioned in a statement.
All relevant parties were informed that this isn’t a typical action of the Nigerian Navy and that the vessel must not follow orders unless instructions related to the identity of the unidentified craft are duly received.
The statement further mentioned that efforts were made to confirm the same with the security forces at the AKPO terminal, and they also couldn’t positively identify the craft.
Based on available information and Nigeria being a risk-prone zone for security issues, the sailors tried to safeguard the vessel and its crew members, fearing a possible pirate attack. The ship sailed out of the location at full speed. On 9 August 2022, it was conveyed that the unidentified craft was a vessel that belonged to the Nigerian Naval force.
References: Hindustan Times, News 18, ANI News, The Print