A ship’s 26-person crew, including 16 Indian sailors, has made a plea for assistance to be released from “illegal” incarceration in Equatorial Guinea on the west coast of central Africa.
The Norwegian-flagged MT Heroic Idun “was arrested by the Equatorial Guinea naval ship in international waters on August 12, 2022,” the seamen claimed in a statement.
According to the statement, on August 14, 2022, the ship was “taken to Luba port in Equatorial Guinea under naval escort and threat of fatal action against the vessel and crew if orders are not met (with)”.
“We, the crew of MT Heroic Idun would like to request for help and assistance to get us released and be brought back to India from Equatorial Guinea where we have been held unlawfully since 14th August 2022. The vessel has a total crew of 26 persons, and out of that we have 16 Indians, 8 Sri Lankans, 1 Polish and 1 Filipino national onboard,” the statement added.
V Muraleedharan, minister of state for external affairs, claimed to be aware of the situation and that his ministry is working to repatriate the Indian people.
On August 14, nine Indian crew members were carried ashore, making a total of fifteen crew members who have been detained at Malabo ever since. Six Indians were among the 11 crew members that remained on the ship.
The statement claimed that the vessel’s owners, managers, and crew “had completely cooperated with all the investigations carried out by the Equatorial Guinea authorities.”
Three times during their stay, Nigerian officials interrogated the crew members who were being kept on shore.
According to the crew, Nigeria requested that the Equatorial Guinean Navy hold them.
On August 8, the ship was scheduled to load a cargo of crude oil at Nigeria’s AKPO port, but due to a delay, no operations ever took place in Nigeria.
The ship was approached by an unknown boat on the evening of August 8 who claimed to be members of the Nigerian Navy and urged it to obey their directions and move forward with them.
“We could not identify the craft as it was night, no moonlight was there, and the craft did not have its Automatic Identification System switched on. We tried our best to confirm the identity of the unidentified craft through the vessel agents in Nigeria, Inchcape Shipping Services, and through our ship managers, OSM Ship Management AS Norway, who also tried to confirm the presence of a naval vessel in the vicinity of our ship through various sources namely DNK war risk insurance, Ships local agent Inchcape Shipping Services Nigeria and ARC Security,” the sailors said in their statement.
“All parties advised us that this is not the Nigerian Navy’s typical course of action and that the warship should not obey any commands unless precise instructions relating to the identify of the unidentified craft are obtained,” the statement continued.
The statement further said: “We also tried to confirm the same with the AKPO terminal security and they also could not positively identify the craft. Based on the information available and Nigeria being a High-Risk Area for security purposes, fearing a pirate attack we acted in good faith fearing for the safety and security of the ship and its crew and sailed out of the location at full speed. The next day on 9th August 2022 it was informed to us that the unidentified craft was a Nigerian Naval vessel.”