By Augustine Ehikioya
After meeting bargain conditions, Motor Tanker HEROIC IDUN was released on Saturday by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
With infractions committed against Nigeria, HEROIC IDUN and the arrested crew had pleaded guilty and voluntarily decided to enter into a plea bargain agreement with the Federal Republic of Nigeria and and also make restitution to the Federal Government.
Worried by the circumstances of the case, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Gambo had earlier declared “It is to be noted that the vessel and crew will not be released until the penalty and restitution are paid as well as public apologies made in the print and electronic media in Nigeria and Llyod’s list.
“The successful arraignment and conviction of Motor Tanker HEROIC IDUN and her crew arrested last August, sentenced after a plea bargain to pay N5 million as penalty for the charge and $15 million as restitution to the country, is a resilient indication that the Nigerian Navy, as the Nation’s maritime sentinel, will stop at nothing to ensure the domain is safer for sustainable development of the Nation’s Blue Economy,” the CNS had stated.
In line with the CNS’s directive, a statement by the Commanding Officer, Forward Operating Base, Bonny, Navy Captain Mohammed Adamu, and made available to Security Watch Africa (SWA) said that the tanker and the crew have met the plea bargain conditions.
It said “It may be recalled the public and indeed the maritime world was notified of the grave infractions of Motor Tanker HEROIC IDUN and her prosecution by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt on 10 January, 2023. It was equally disclosed that the Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), MT HEROIC IDUN 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 Federal Government.
“The plea bargain was in the interest of justice, the public and for public policy interest in line with Section 270 (5) (a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. Accordingly, after the conviction of MT HEROIC IDUN and sentencing by the Court, in line with the agreed terms, the MT HEROIC IDUN and its owners were to pay conviction fines and restitution to the FGN 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. All these being the conditions of the plea bargain without which the VLCC and its crew would not be released,” it stated.
The statement disclosed that the owners of the vessel apologized to the FGN on the LLOYDS List on 12 May, 2023 and the same apology was published in the Punch Newspaper (Page 27) of 18 May, 2023.
The vessel, it noted, regretted the false pirate attack alarm she raised on 7 August, 2022, which was in clear defiance of the State being that she disobeyed the orders of Nigerian Navy Ship GONGOLA after an attempt to load crude oil without appropriate approvals from NNPCL and the necessary security clearance.
It went on “The subsequent transfer of the Ship from Equatorial Guinea after she had escaped Nigerian waters and her prosecution under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act, 2019 further demonstrates the Nigerian Navy’s practical commitment to ensure that only valid and authorized vessels are allowed to carry out export of crude oil or gas at the various oil terminals and this is with a view to enhancing energy security governance in the country for improved national prosperity as directed by the FGN.
“Pertinently, MT HEROIC IDUN having fulfilled all the aforementioned conditions of the plea bargain to the satisfaction of the Federal High Court has been released today Saturday 27 May, 2023 to its owners, Idun Maritime Limited with the consent of the court and approval of the FGN.
“Consequent upon this development, maritime stakeholders, key players and seafarers operating within Nigerian waters are enjoined and warned to carefully conduct their operations and maritime related activities within extant regulations and with due observance of the law.
“The Nigerian Navy will not fail to bring to book those whose operation infringe on the provisions of the SPOMO Act and all maritime laws and conventions acceded to by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
It assured that the Navy under the able leadership of the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo CFR shall continue to work in synergy with other Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies, Navies of the Gulf of Guinea States and strategic partners of Nigeria to ensure that Nigeria derives the maximum benefit from its natural resources in her vast maritime area.