As the battle against illegal crude oil theft and export intensifies, the Federal Government has scored a major point with the arrest, repatriation, and arraignment of the Very Large Crude Carrier, (VLCC) MT Heroic Idun suspected of being involved in the illicit activity.
Following their arrest, the ship’s 26 man crew, made up of Indian, Sri Lankan, Filipino, Brazilian, and Polish nationals were arraigned at the Federal High court in Port Harcourt the Rivers State capital on Monday.
Prosecuting on behalf of the Federal Government, the Ministry of Defence arraigned the crew on a three-count charge bordering on false pretense, attempted crude oil theft, and piracy among others.
Pleading his innocence to journalists, the captain of the vessel Tanuj Mehta who is an Indian national, claimed he and his crew were merely following his superiors’ orders even as he refers to his vessel’s encounter with the Nigerian Navy as a misunderstanding.
Sixteen of the crew members were present in court, while10 were left aboard the vessel which is anchored off the coast of Bonny Island.
Putting in appearances were, Udoka Ezeobi for the defendants and Adewumi Aluko for the prosecution.
The trial judge Turaki Mohammed ordered that they be remanded in the custody of the Navy aboard the vessel before adjourning the case to Tuesday, November 15, 2022 to enable the other 10 members have their pleas taken.
Measuring 336m in length and 60m in width, the Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) which is the size of three standard football fields was initially accosted within the Akpo offshore oil fields in the early hours of August 8, 2022 and despite several attempts to arrest, it somehow escaped into the open ocean where she was intercepted and seized by the authorities of the Equatorial Guinea.
After months of intense bilateral diplomatic negotiations, the vessel was finally repatriated to Nigeria where investigations are on to unearth the circumstances surrounding her involvement.