By Sumaila Ogbaje
The Nigerian Navy (NN) says the release of Motor Tanker (MT) Heroic Idun, arrested and prosecuted for criminal offences, would be subject to fulfilment of the plea bargain agreement with the Federal Government.
The Director of Information, NN, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, made this known in a statement on Thursday in Abuja.
Ayo-Vaughan said the Naval Headquarters had on Aug. 19, 2022, announced the arrest of the vessel by the Equatorial Guinean Navy.
He recalled that the Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) had entered the Nigerian Maritime Environment (NME) on Aug. 7, 2022 and headed for Akpo Field without any authorisation or clearance.
He said the MT Heroic Idun, with IMO number 9858058, was registered in Marshall Island and had an overall length of 336-metres, 60 metres breadth (nearly the size of 3 football fields) and a carrying capacity of 3 million barrels.
According to him, the vessel’s Captain, having duly responded to Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) GONGOLA, later failed to comply with the Navy ship’s order to proceed to Bonny Anchorage to await her NNPCL papers but rather altered her course southward and proceeded at top speed towards the Nigeria/Sao Tome Joint Development Zone.
It also reported her encounter with NNS GONGOLA to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) as a pirate attack, but this was later refuted by IMB because it was not.
“Fortunately, MT Heroic Idun was tracked by the Nigerian Navy’s state of the art Maritime Domain Awareness system and the ship was eventually arrested by the Equatorial Guinean authorities based on a formal request by the Nigerian Navy under the Yaoundé Code of Conduct.
“The vessel was afterwards transferred back to Nigeria on Nov. 12, 2022.
“For the brazen act of defiance to constituted authority as exhibited by the vessel as well as the false pirate attack alarm she raised, including the attempt to load crude oil without relevant approval, the NN approached the Attorney General of the Federation/ Minister of Justice and the ship and crew were charged to court at a Federal High Court Port Harcourt on Jan. 10.
Naval spokesman said it was clear that the vessel’s presence in NME on Aug. 7, 2022 was not just suspicious but with apparent intent to commit a grave crime against the nation.
He said the vessel and her 26 foreign crew pleaded guilty and elected voluntarily to enter into a plea bargain agreement with the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as make restitution to the government.
According to him, the plea bargain was in the interest of justice, the public and for public policy interest.
He added that the owners of the vessel made the plea agreement after due consultations in line with Section 270 (5) (a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
“Upon the acceptance of the plea bargain, both parties agreed to the fulfilment of the conditions before any release will be made.
“Accordingly, after the conviction and sentencing by the court in line with the agreed terms, MT Heroic Idun and its owners are to pay fines to the Federal Government and make an apology to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in print and electronic media as well as Llyod’s list.
“On its part, the Federal Government agreed not to further criminally prosecute and/or investigate the vessel, her owners, charterers or her crew in the matter of her crime against the state.
“Gleaning from the foregoing therefore, the release of MT Heroic Idun is subject to the fulfilment of all aforementioned conditions of the plea bargain to the satisfaction of the Federal High Court.
“The online reports and stories of the release of the vessel are thus false, mischievous and misleading.
“The Nigerian Navy assures Nigerians that in accordance with its statutory responsibilities and drawing strength from the strategic directives of the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, the Service will sustain a posture of zero tolerance to crude oil theft and other criminal activities in NME.
“The Navy shall continue to work in synergy with other maritime stakeholders, navies of the Gulf of Guinea states and strategic partners of Nigeria to ensure that Nigeria derives maximum benefit from its natural resources in the maritime area.
“No form of campaign of calumny or malicious online publications will distract the Navy from her unwavering commitment to the dutiful fulfilment of her constitutional mandate,” he said. (NAN) (www.nannews.ng)
Edited by Idris Abdulrahman