The fair treatment of seafarers accused of maritime crimes will be discussed at the International Maritime Organization next year amid continued controversy over the three-month detention of a VLCC crew by Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.
The IMO’s legal committee in March will address the treatment of seafarers facing criminal charges along with other welfare issues, including payment for abandoned sailors and shipowner responsibilities for crew injured or killed at work.
The global body’s secretariat has been in touch with all parties in the dispute over the Ray Car Carriers-owned, 300,000-dwt Heroic Idun (built 2020), which has been held since 12 August and is currently detained off the coast at Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
The 26 crewmen are due to stand trial in January accused of a false piracy report and on allegations of attempting to export of oil without authority. The charges carry a maximum term of life imprisonment and potential forfeiture of the ship.
Some crew members have been held in prison and questioned for up to 14 hours in Equatorial Guinea, where the ship was held for nearly three months before being transferred to Nigeria, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
The Nigerian authorities say the ship was waiting to load at its Akpo oilfield on 8 August without authority and left at full speed to “evade arrest” when approached by one of its patrol vessels. It was arrested days later by a ship from Equatorial Guinea.
The ship was sub-chartered to oil major BP, which said on Wednesday that the tanker had been cleared to load at the Bonny oil terminal, adding to the pressure on the Nigerian authorities just days after it was returned to the country for further investigations.
The crew’s representatives say officers failed to identify the Nigerian ship as a naval vessel and adopted standard industry practice to avoid a potential boarding by pirates. The crew remain on the ship after being bailed following hearings earlier this week.
Nigerian representatives told the IMO’s maritime safety committee that it should “exercise caution” in getting involved in the dispute owing to “national security”.
“There is no doubt that upon completion of the investigation the details will be released appropriately,” said the delegation.
The Nigerian government has moved to crack down on widescale corruption and theft of oil from its pipelines and fields that cost the country billions of dollars.