BJP Spokesperson and Velim leader, Savio Rodrigues has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appealing him to direct the Ministry of External Affairs to intervene, and in the interest of Goans, assist the crew of the MT Heroic Indun, to get them released and be brought back to India from Equatorial Guinea, where they have been held unlawfully since 14th August, 2022.
The letter mentions how the vessel has a total crew of 26 members, out of whom 16 are Indians, 8 Sri Lankans, 1 Polish, and 1 is Filipino. The vessel was arrested by the Equatorial Guinea naval ship in international waters on 12th August, 2022, and brought to Luba port in Equatorial Guinea under naval escort and threat of lethal action against the vessel and crew if orders are not complied with, on 14th August 2022.
The letter further adds that as per the information provided, the vessel was arrested based on a request made by Nigeria. The ship was supposed to load cargo of crude oil in Nigeria’s AKPO terminal on 8th August 2022, but as per terminal instructions, the loading operation was delayed, and the ship never made any operations in Nigeria. On the evening of 8th of August, 2022, the ship was approached by an unidentified craft claiming to be Nigerian Navy and asked to proceed with them and follow instructions. They could not identify the craft as it was night, and no moon light was there, and the craft did not have its Automatic Identification System switched on.
“They have tried their 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 was risk insurance, Ships local agent Inchcape Shipping Services Nigeria and ARC Security”, mentioned Rodrigues in his letter to the PM.
The BJP Spokesperson further added, “All parties informed that this is not a normal course of action by the Nigerian Navy and that the vessel should not follow any orders unless clear instructions relating to the identity of the unidentified craft are received. They also tried to confirm the same with the AKPO terminal security and they also could not positively identify the craft”.
Adding on to the chain of events, he stated how based on the information available and Nigeria being a High-Risk Area for security purposes, fearing a pirate attack, they 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 that the unidentified craft was a Nigerian Naval vessel. On 12th August, the ship was arrested by Equatorial Guinea naval vessel from International Waters and brought to Luba Port on 14th August 2022.
Following this, 15 crew members were taken ashore on the same day consisting of 9 Indians also, and have ever since been held in detention at Malabo, till today. 11 crew members were left on the ship, out of which are 6 Indian nationals. The owners, managers and crew of the vessel have fully cooperated with all the investigations carried out by the Equatorial Guinea authorities. The crew ashore were even interrogated by Nigerian officials 3 times during one day.
The letter further reads that the Nigerian officials also visited the ship at Luba to carry out their investigations. The crew has been cooperating with all investigations and submitted all proof and documents regarding the same to both Equatorial Guinea and Nigerian Authorities. Despite not being engaged in any unlawful activities and in good faith to assist any investigations, all parties concerned have been extremely cooperative with the authorities.
On 28th September 2022, the crew ashore in Malabo were presented with a resolution stating the offences committed and the fine to be paid for the same. To facilitate an early release of the crew from captivity fearing serious health concerns, the owners of the vessel immediately paid the fine within a week and the same has been confirmed received by the Equatorial Guinea authorities.
However, after that, no information has been provided, the crew and ship are held in Equatorial Guinea under arrest till date. Although they have not been mistreated or harassed in any way by the Equatorial Guinea authorities, but even though all investigations and payment of fine has been completed, they have not been released.
Requesting PM Modi for immediate assistance in the matter, ending his letter, Rodrigues stated that the crew members onboard the ship and the crew members held ashore are in an extremely critical mental condition and their physical health is also deteriorating rapidly.
He then mentioned how on 4th November, 2022, instructions were received from an agent that the ship and crew was being handed over to the Nigerian Navy for further investigation and penalty, and therefore, he looked forward to the PM’s assistance at the earliest.